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Yemen: restoring fishing-based livelihoods

a man in an orange life vest on a beach with boats in the background

Ashraf Badr Saleh Sheikh, 40 years old, lives in Shuqrah, a city in Khanfar district of Abyan

Ashraf Badr Saleh Sheikh, 40 years old, lives in Shuqrah, a city in Khanfar district of Abyan

“In my community, fishing was often practiced as a source of supplementary food need, not as a business. But with the difficult economic conditions and the increasing unemployment rate, more young people are tending to work in fishing to provide for their families,” says Ashraf Badr Saleh Sheikh, a 40-year-old fisherman from Shuqrah city in Abyan’s Khanfar district.

Ashraf lives in the coastal city of Shuqrah with his wife and their three children. After graduating from university, he started to work as a fisherman. Shuqrah city is one of the cities that has been hardest hit by the six-year-long conflict in Yemen. The conflict around the city has disrupted people’s access to basic services such as electricity, water and healthcare services. Limited access to fresh fish and other food crops negatively affects food security and malnutrition levels in the city.

“Shuqrah city was once known for its excellent fish,” says Ashraf. The fishing industry was one of the greatest contributors to Yemen’s GDP after oil and it was of great importance to the economy, providing the main source of food security, earning and employment for the majority of Yemenis living in coastal areas. The ongoing conflict, coupled with climate change in recent years, have devastated the fisheries sector in Yemen. With the outbreak of the conflict in 2015, several landing sites were wiped out, many fishermen lost their boats, and the infrastructure was destroyed.

Two men carrying fish on their shoulder at the beach
Ashraf and his colleague transporting their tuna fish caught from the boat to sell it in the market

Access to fish has become a major challenge for Yemeni fisherfolks today. Most fishermen in Shuqrah used to depend on fishing from nearby coastal waters, but these stocks have steadily decreased in recent decades due to overfishing, climate change, pollution. Now, fishermen have to sail long risky journeys, with inadequate equipment to catch enough fish to sell in the market.

According to FAO’s monitoring report, one in two fisherfolk households reported a decrease in fish production of over 50%, citing constraints to fish production activities due to a lack of fishing materials, reduced market demand and high fuel prices. This is likely to have serious implications on the livelihoods and food security of the households depending on the sale of fish products.

With funding from Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), CARE started a project to improve food security levels in Khanfa, Zingibar, Rasad and Sarar districts of Abyan governorate in 2020. As part of the Lifesaving and Recovery Assistance project, CARE works to revive the fisheries sector through training fishermen in Shuqrah city on best fishing practices such as maintaining the quality of fish at the capture stage, proper onboard handling procedures and fish draining and gutting, and placing fish on ice to reduce bacterial buildup and prevent spoilage. Applying these careful hygiene procedures and cold storage measures throughout the fishing process can ensure top quality and good sales. For instance, the prices of good quality catches are two to four times higher than the prices of catches that were not properly handled.

Ashraf was fortunate to be trained on best fishing practices. After learning on-board handling procedures and cold storage techniques, he can now sell his catches at two to four times higher prices and get more profits.

“This project provided us with much-need fishing tools, such as fishing nets with their accessories, a set of ropes, safety vest, fishing line and a warning lamp,” says Ashraf. “Moreover, we received three installments of cash aid for three months – USD 50 per month.”

A group of men in a boat
Thanks to cash aid, Ashraf bought a bigger engine for his boat so he can sail long distances in the sea with his mates to catch tuna fish

“In the past, we couldn’t sail long distances – at least fourteen nautical miles – to catch profitable fish like tuna,” he adds, “but in the last fishing season I was able to buy a large fishing engine that helped me reach deeper distances in the sea to catch tuna.”

CARE consultants worked hard to educate fishermen about the importance of installing coolers on their traditional boats as coolers take up more space in their small boats and affect their fish load. The consultants explained the great benefits of coolers by emphasizing the quality of their catches over quantity. “The prices of fish that we now sell in the market increased after we installed coolers on our boats, which helped us to keep the fish in high quality,” says Ashraf as he explains the financial impact of installing coolers in traditional boats.

The challenge of ensuring access to development is central to helping Yemen reposition itself for a more resilient future. CARE’s focus on quality improvement within the food security sector is leading to improved practices and results. It is an investment not only in strengthening fishers in the short term, but also to revitalize the quality of fish catches, improve livelihoods and maximize returns.

CARE and Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF) conduct a $4,300,000 food security and education project in Abyan (Khanfar, Zingibar, Rasad and Sarar districts), Hajjah (Aslem district), Taiz (Al Wazi’iyah districts) and Ibb (Al Udayn district) governorates. The food security component in Abyan provides fishing kits and on sustainable fishing practices to 500 households.

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