The harbor of Sidi Youssef in Kerkennah island just off the eastern coast of mainland Tunisia was re-opened yesterday night after three consecutive days in which maritime transport between the island and the coastal city of Sfax was blocked.
Sea traffic to and from Sidi Youssef was stopped on Tuesday, January 8, when fishermen from the small town of Mellita in the island blocked the port with their fishing boats. Such an act prevented the only ferry, known locally as Elloud, from leaving Sidi Youssef and reaching Sfax, confirmed an official within the regional fishing office in Kerkennah, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Mellita fishermen blocked the passage to protest the decision made by Mohamed Ben Salem, the minister of agriculture, who was determined to implement laws, criminalizing bottom trawling as a fishing process,” said the same source.
A bottom trawl is a large fishing net that is dragged across the sea bottom and collects a large percentage of seabed life, including fishes still in an embryonic state. The practice is criticized for its environmental impact on the seafloor and its marine ecosystem. Mellita fishermen have normally engaged in bottom trawling, negatively affecting the catch of traditional fishermen from the town of El-Kratin in the island, who use cast nets to fish.
The Ministry of Agriculture has thus sought to take decisive action and stop bottom trawling.
“The ministry decided to uphold the Fisheries Act of January 31, 1994, which prohibits any fisherman from using the bottom trawl,” said Ali Bouraoui, a press attaché at the Ministry of Agriculture.
He added that Ben Salem took into account the complaints of El-Kratin fishermen about the negative effects of bottom trawling as well as concerns over the wellbeing of the marine environment.
“Soulef Ksontini, a constituent assembly member interested in the issue, met Ben Salem, and they agreed to create a special security unit to protect the coasts from indiscriminate fishing and create a commission, made up of fishermen and officials from the ministry, to assess the [financial] losses to Mellita fishermen,” recounted Kamel Ammar, a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) representative of the Sfax governorate to which Kerkennah belongs.
Fattoum Assouad, another NCA representative from Sfax, placed great importance on the implementation of the anti-trawling law.
“The problem is not whether there is a law criminalizing that kind of fishing or not, but rather the application of the law,” she said.
Maritime traffic resumed yesterday night following a meeting between Mellita fishermen, members of Sfax’s local labor union, Governor of Sfax Fethi Derbali, and a delegate in Sfax, Moez Gobtni.
During the meeting, Mellita fishermen accepted to remove their boats and allow passage to and from the harbor after they were promised to meet the minister of agriculture tomorrow, January 12, confirmed Samir Cheffi, assistant secretary general of Tunisia’s main labor union, the UGTT.
The blockage of the Sidi Youssef harbor impacted commerce and the daily lives of inhabitants in Kerkennah and Sfax. Saida Kammoun is a Kerkennah local, who was affected by the dispute over bottom trawling.
“Ghassan, my son, cannot go to his high school in Sfax. He needs to use Elloud daily, and now he is at home, unable to reach his high school,” Kammoun told Tunisia Live yesterday hours before the harbor’s re-opening.
“Even my daughter, Hazar, who is working as a nurse in Sfax, is now unable to return home [to the island],” she added.
“We are living in a siege – unable to get in touch with Sfax, which is our only source to live from, where we can get foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, and fuel,” Kammoun said.
“We are in total isolation.”
Although the harbor was re-opened, Kammoun does not believe that it will be the last time that maritime traffic is halted between Kerkennah and the mainland.
“It is not the first time that Elloud stops its circuit. Protest is one of the reasons behind it not transporting people and goods to Sfax. Heavy rains are another reason,” she pointed out in a phone interview today.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Environmental crimes run rampant in Tunisia | ST McNeil | 28 November 2013