In Gaza Strip, fish farms bring relief to seafood lovers

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KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Gaza Strip, with a 40-kilometer (25-mile) Mediterranean coastline, was always known for its seafood until Israel restricted the fishing area.

As a result, Palestinians have begun importing fish and other seafood from Israel or Egypt and building fish farms.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2006 after Hamas militants captured an Israeli soldier and tightened the closure the following year after Hamas seized control of the territory. Israel says the restrictions are needed to prevent Hamas, a militant group sworn to its destruction, from smuggling weapons into the territory. The sides have fought three wars since the Hamas takeover.

At times of heightened tensions, the fishing zone was barely three nautical miles. Today, it is six miles, still half of the pre-blockade distance.

The fish farms have helped bring down prices of the popular sea bream fish. But another popular item, shrimp, remains extremely expensive, costing up to $25 a kilogram ($11 a pound).

Rezek al-Salmi, who worked at an Israeli fishery for 20 years, is trying to change this. He has built Gaza's first shrimp farm in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

In 2014, Gaza fishermen caught only two tons of fish from the sea, meeting a small fraction of Gaza's needs, said Walid Thabet of Gaza's Agriculture Ministry. There are four commercial fish farms in Gaza, most of them producing bream. Last year, they produced 220 tons, Thabet said. Other fish is imported from Israel.

Fish Fresh, the largest grower of bream in Gaza, serves everyday people and restaurants.

"This place is a wonderful alternative to the sea for fresh fish," customer Ibrahim Moussa said.

Rafah restaurant owner Abu el-Amir Zurob said rough seas can limit catches. "Sometimes there is no fish for five days, so there is nothing but these farms to get the fish. They helped us so much."

But not everyone is welcoming the farms. "When there is a lot of fish, when the farms produce so much, its price goes down," said Sami al-Hessi, a fisherman.

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