CAIRO — As fishermen from the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez, Aqaba and the Hurghada Islands and its environs prepare for a distinguished fishing season, they were surprised in recent days by the implementation of a government decision to stop fishing in the public interest for up to 4 months, compounding their suffering, while the Egyptian government is trying to alleviate the suffering through several efforts, including the "Bar Aman" initiative.

The annual bulletin of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics issued on May 24 revealed a decrease in the amount of fish production in Egypt in the last statistical year, which is 2021, reaching two million tons compared to 2.1 million tons in 2020, a decrease of 0.43%, as well as a decrease in fish production in fish farms and rice fields, reaching 1.58 million tons in 2021 compared to 1.59 million tons in 2020, a decrease of 1.0%.

According to unofficial estimates, the number of fishermen in Egypt is close to 5 million, but according to official estimates, the number of registered fishermen is only 500,<>.

The government recently launched two initiatives to support small fishermen, namely the "Bar Aman" initiative under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and the "Egyptian Fishermen" initiative under the supervision of the Ministry of Manpower, while the Protection and Development of Lakes and Fisheries Agency (a government agency) leads the supervision of the development of the fishing craft and the training of fishermen, in accordance with Law No. 146 of 2021.

The Governor of the Red Sea, Major General Amr Hanafi, announced in press statements the start of disbursement of 4 thousand pounds (the dollar equals about 30 pounds) for each month of suspension for fishermen in his governorate, with the imposition of fines ranging from 50 to 100 thousand pounds for violators of the decision to stop fishing and confiscate boats, stressing that the decision is for the purpose of preserving fish wealth, amid rejection from associations for fishermen, a representative of which said, "The decision serves major fish importers."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier called for the need to pay attention to initiatives to support the economic conditions of fishermen in parallel with the state's efforts to develop natural lakes nationwide, double its production of fish and localize the modern fishing boat industry in the country.

An endangered profession

Ahmed Nassar, head of the Egyptian Fishermen's Syndicate and head of the fisheries division of the General Union of Agriculture and Fishing Workers, said the Egyptian political leadership is doing its best to improve the conditions of fishermen, but the failure of the executive authorities is the cause of the suffering.

Nassar spoke in an interview with Al Jazeera Net about the crisis of downtime and the lack of appropriate compensation, and the lack of approval of the fishermen's demand to establish a "fisherman welfare fund" with the contribution of the state and the union, to provide reasonable financial subsidies for small fishermen at any time downtime.

The head of the Fishermen's Syndicate pointed out that the experience of the Ministries of Solidarity and Manpower is insufficient to implement the "Bar Aman" initiative individually without resorting to the syndicate that is aware of the needs of fishermen, criticizing the limited licenses to lake fishermen and not extending them to the fishermen of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, despite the fact that the "Bar Aman" initiative is comprehensive for all fishermen.

Nassar calls for legalizing the reduction of fees on fishing licenses, which have increased by 300%, and the state's support for fishermen with a share of diesel to be covered by half of its price and the state bears the rest, similar to the subsidy directed to the farmer, with the review of fishing laws in the House of Representatives in the presence of the Fishermen's Syndicate.

Nassar expressed his fear for the future of the fishing profession in Egypt, saying, "We have nearly 5 million fishermen, many of whom work in other professions besides fishing to meet their needs throughout the year, and some of them have turned to work in African countries such as Ghana, Eritrea, Senegal and some European countries to face the inappropriate conditions here, which makes the fishing profession in Egypt heading to extinction if the situation continues as it is."

Egypt recorded a decrease in the amount of fish production in 2021 (French)

Words on paper

For his part, Mohamed Sharabi, head of the Burullus Lake Fishermen's Syndicate in northern Egypt, agrees with Nassar, stressing that no one is implementing the president's directives to support fishermen as they should be.

Sharabi says to Al Jazeera Net that "the initiative of Bar Aman, for example, its content on paper 100%, but on the ground is still not effective nor sufficient, and we have spoken with officials and MPs a lot and did not find new."

The head of the Burullus Fishermen's Syndicate adds that the crisis is also currently in demanding fishermen who are suspended from fishing to pay monthly insurance despite their cessation of work, explaining that the fisherman has become an irregular employment with climate change in Egypt and the large number of decisions to stop fishing, which must be taken into account and correct the situation before the loss of fishermen and the fishing profession, according to his assessment.

For his part, economist Abdel Hafez al-Sawy calls on officials of the fishermen's union to hold a general conference attended by all concerned to present their demands to the table of officials and come up with urgent practical recommendations.

Al-Sawy explains to Al Jazeera Net that the fisherman's crisis is felt by the average citizen in the markets currently, where fish prices have risen unprecedentedly, stressing that the fishing industry is a candidate to be the key word in enhancing food security for Egypt if state institutions can lift the suffering of fishermen and provide the necessary support in a country that includes Bahrain, the Nile River, a number of lakes and several fish farms.