CDWS has called on the Minister of Tourism and Minister of State for the Environment to take immediate action following the South Sinai Governor's decision to give the green light to commercial fishing in one of the most famous marine nature reserves in the world. The decision to allow commercial fishing in the Ras Mohammed National Park has sparked fury among the dive community, particularly as overfishing was cited as one of the factors that led to the unprecedented shark attacks in Sharm el Sheikh last year.
Sites within the National Park, such as Shark Reef, feature on the world's best dive lists time and again, attracting many millions of visiting divers. Divers say the decision will not only damage the eco system long term but also the tourism industry in the Red Sea resort as a whole.
A petition has been started online by the diving community: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/stop-fishing-in-ras-mohammed-national-park/
The South Sinai Governor Mohamed Abdel Fadeel Shousha is reported to have given the go ahead for fishing by hook and line during the month of June within the national park - the start of the spawning season for emperorfish.
Until now, any method of fishing within the Ras Mohammed National Park at any time of the year has been illegal. Net fishing has been banned throughout the Red Sea, from May to September, specifically to prevent any impact on the spawning season.
CDWS chairman Hesham Gabr has personally written to the Minister of Tourism calling the decision an 'environmental disaster' which would have 'serious economic implications' for the tourism industry.
In response to recommendations by CDWS, the Minister of Tourism has approved an action plan to stop the illegal fishing while providing funds - more than 400,000 Egyptian Pounds - for capacity building, training and poverty alleviation for the Bedouin fishermen and their families. In return, they will refrain from fishing in Ras Mohammed and the latest South Sinai Governorate Decree would be revoked.
Last year, CDWS launched its Capture the Catcher campaign to help stamp out illegal fishing by encouraging water users in the Red Sea to photograph evidence of any incidents.
The Red Sea is one of the few places on the planet where shark fishing has been made illegal, with other species receiving protection in a significant number of productive coral reef marine zones. However, there was increasing evidence to suggest fishing activity continued in these areas and CDWS wanted visitors to name and shame the catchers.
International shark experts said illegal fishing was certainly a contributing factor in the shark attacks last year, in which four swimmers were hurt and one killed. At the time, the South Sinai Governor's office said it would work towards fighting illegal fishing activity and issued a decree.
Decree Number Four issued in January states that all kinds of fishing activities -for sport fishing and/or tourist trips (Egyptian or foreigners) - are prohibited by law in South Sinai, regardless of location or method of fishing, since it depletes the marine natural resources.
Both the Decree Number Four for the year 2011, issued by the Governor of South Sinai, and a letter from the South Sinai National Park, declare the entire coast of the Gulf of Aqaba as a natural reserve, including the coastline of the cities of Dahab and Nuweiba up to Taba.
CDWS environment department underlined the extent of the damage caused if such fishing activity was not stopped immediately. It said:
'This heavy fishing pressure in a Marine Protected Area directly effects coral reef sustainability through a wide range of direct and indirect mechanisms. These would in turn affect the diving tourism in Egypt. The most widely reported direct effects are dramatic reductions in abundance and mean population length of fish as well as marked decrease in recruitment and reproductive output. Heavy fishing also causes extensive physical damage to reef habitats, marked effects upon the coral reef community structure, dramatic changes in food webs and disturbed predator-prey relationships. As simply stated by G. Burgess, shark attack specialist from the Florida Museum of Natural History that the reduction in natural prey abundance for sharks, such as tunas, snappers, emperors, and other large fish, by overfishing may be contributing to an increasingly hungry group of sharks that may be forced to take greater risks and expand their natural prey selection. He also recommended that the enforcement of existing fishers laws should be vigorously implemented to curb the overfishing that is occurring in the area.'
*In December 2008 the CDWS, together with SSDM and HEPCA, organised the first-ever conference to discuss the issue of illegal fishing, bringing together the Governor of South Sinai, the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Agriculture, Egyptian Fisheries Agency, the Deputy Minister of the Environment, the head of South Sinai Parks, Fisherman Association and the Oceanographic Institute. However, there is still no significant changes to the law to deal with illegal fishing.
** Legal considerations
- Legalising the illegal fishing activity breaks several national legislations.
- Legalising the illegal activity contradicts with several regional and international conventions and agreements that Egypt has ratified.
*** Ras Mohammed National Park is a site included on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative Lists: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1636/
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