Yemen Fishing in the middle of a war

“Sometimes everything we catch goes on fuel. To save on fuel, we use paddles, but then we can’t go far out, to where the big fish are,” says Zaid.

Zaid, a 35-year-old fisherman from the west coast of Yemen, was taught how to fish when he was a little boy. He never went to school. Working as a fisherman was the only trade he ever knew.

But when the fighting in Yemen hit his village in Hodeidah two years ago, Zaid took his wife and seven children and fled to the district of At-Tuhayta. Although not far from the frontlines, it was still safer than his home village.

An industry in trouble

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has decimated the country’s Red Sea fishing industry. Fishing boats, ports and processing sites have been destroyed or damaged. Fishermen have been killed and injured. A polluted marine environment has destroyed the artisanal fishing sector and displaced thousands of fishermen along with their families.

Regular fuel shortages have increased operating costs for Yemen’s fisherman. And the looming threat of an oil leak from FSO Safer (a floating oil storage tanker moored in the Red Sea) could further jeopardise the livelihoods of people like Zaid and the fishing sector in Yemen.

Before the conflict, the fishing industry in Yemen employed more than half a million people and was the country’s second-biggest exporter behind oil and gas. Thousands of boats fished the rich waters of the Red Sea for tuna, sardines, mackerel, lobster and more. It is estimated that only half of the fishermen are still working today.

“Fishing is like gambling”

Zaid hasn’t stopped fishing. In At-Tuhayta, he still spends most of his days on the sea. But the war has made it more difficult for him to navigate. Before the war, he and his colleagues used to venture out into the deep waters to catch more and bigger fish.

“We used to go out to the islands,” Zaid says. “Now, with the fighting, the problems, and the fuel prices, we do not go there anymore.”

Even in normal times, fishing comes with its own set of challenges. Its seasonal nature and the high operating costs make it a risky business. Zaid sees fishing as gambling. He needs well-maintained gear, a good boat, but also luck.

“Fishing is like gambling. Sometimes we get more than enough. Other times it is not enough to cover our losses,” he says.

Abdo, a 21-year-old crew member on Zaid’s boat, agrees. “If we do not catch any fish, we eat what we have at home: some potatoes, corn, or anything. And if there is nothing at home, well, only Allah can help,” he says.

A package of support

On days when Zaid and Abdo are unable to catch enough fish to feed their families, they look for an alternative source of income. Sometimes they collect wood to sell at the market, other times they sell a goat or any valuable thing they might have, or borrow money. If nothing works, they don’t eat.

To help fishermen like Zaid and Abdo stay afloat, the Giving Hope For Them (GHFT) and the Yemen Humanitarian Fund provided a package of support. Fishermen in Zaid’s area received life jackets, fishing nets, an icebox, and training on best fishing practices. They also got a small cash payment to help them through the tough times.

The support has made a real difference to Zaid. “Before, we used sacks to store the fish we caught,” he says. “We put some ice in plastic bags and put them in with the fish. Now with the icebox from GHFT, we can store the fish for much longer and go on longer fishing trips, without worrying the fish might go bad.”

Supporting Zaid and families like his is an essential part of the humanitarian response in Yemen. Helping families to earn an income and restore their livelihoods is crucial to addressing hunger in Yemen. It helps families get back on their feet and become self-sufficient, and also boosts the local economy.

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