Governor revokes fishing decree in Ras Mohamed

The governor of South Sinai on 19 May reneged on the decree he had issued in earlier in the month, which authorized seasonal fishing in Ras Mohamed Protectorate, a national park. The governor, Mohamed Abdel Fadeel Shousha, made the decision under pressure from governmental authorities, environmental NGOs, the media and the tourism industry.

Commercial fishermen had encroached upon the protectorate this month and were given a green light to continue fishing to June to catch valuable emperor fish (Lethrinus nebulosus) during their spawning season. The authorization threatened to destroy not only the delicate ecosystem of the marine protectorate, but also the tourism industry centered around it.

Having over-fished and depleted fish stocks, fishermen from the Nile Delta, Suez Canal and the Red Sea are seeking new fishing grounds to maintain their livelihoods. Commercial fishermen have threatened to block off roads and highways along South Sinai until their demands are met.

In order to avert these crises, governmental officials are offering the fishermen monetary compensation. According to the settlement, the owners of fishing boats are to receive compensation amounting to LE10,000 (around US$1695) per vessel, while fishermen are to receive LE1000 (around US$169.)

According to Mahmoud Hanafy, professor of marine biology and environmental adviser to the Red Sea governorate, "These compensations are to be jointly paid by the Ministry of Tourism, the South Sinai Governorate, and the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs." The Ministry of Tourism is reportedly paying the largest bulk of the compensation, amounting to some LE400,000 (around US$67,800.)

Hanafy has repeatedly emphasized that a long-term solution to the problems and threats associated with commercial fishing in the Red Sea could be provided by the tourism industry via employment opportunities for these fishermen.

Hanafy said negotiations for compensation to fishermen are ongoing since 22 May but that “some 17 recreational boats are also maneuvering to receive compensation.”

“They should not be eligible for such compensation," he said, as these boats are not involved in commercial fishing, but rather in "diving, snorkeling, pleasure cruises, etc."
The biologist went on to say that the authorities at the protectorate, along with the Navy and the Coast Guard, are responsible for enforcing the fishing ban.

"I don't expect any further violations to take place in Ras Mohamed,” he said. “The Navy is overseeing and patrolling the Red Sea, and boats cannot take to the sea without permission from the Coast Guard."

The governor's previous decree represented a blatant violation of Fishing Law 124/1983, which prohibits all forms of fishing in spawning grounds, as well as the Natural Protectorates Law 102/1983, which prohibits catching of wildlife, destroying natural habitats, or pollution of protected zones. 

The Ras Mohamed Natural Park was the first area to be granted protectorate status in 1983. The park currently covers an area of 850 km sq., most of which is under water. Ras Mohamed, with its rich natural habitat, is a major tourism landmark in Sinai, particularly among divers and snorkelers.

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