Yemen fish market in troubled waters

AL-MUKALLA: The internationally recognized government of Yemen has halted all exports of fresh fish in response to a fish shortage in the local market and soaring domestic prices.
Maj. Salem Abdullah Al-Soqotri, minister of agriculture, irrigation, and fisheries, has issued a circular banning all fish exports through the country’s land, sea, and air ports indefinitely, ordering the formation of an operation room at the ministry’s headquarters in Aden to monitor the implementation of the decision and provide daily updates to the public about fish prices, as well as to monitor daily fish catches and fish supplies to the local market.
Yemenis who had previously purchased fresh fish for export were given one week to ship their catch or suffer repercussions. The Yemeni public recently erupted as fish prices hit an all-time high, making fish a pipe dream for many in the country, whose riyal has lost more than 100 percent of its value.
The price of a kilogram of tuna, known locally as thamad and the most popular type of fish in Yemen, reached a record high of 12,000 riyals ($10) in the port cities of Aden and Al-Mukalla before falling to 7,000 riyals compared to nearly 3500 riyals months ago, eliciting public outrage and widespread criticism of the Yemeni government for failing to control prices.
Al-Soqotri told the Aden-based AIC TV on Monday that the ban was intended to create a balance between fish supplies to the local market and fish exports, primarily because the local market is experiencing a shortage of supplies and rising prices.
He said local authorities in the provinces would be responsible for implementing the ban and alerting his ministry when there is an excess of fish in the market.
“All stakeholders in this sector will be engaged in the implementation and evaluation,” the minister said, adding that the decision was also intended to provide fish to Yemeni canneries.
Critics have questioned the government’s capacity to enforce the ban, recalling prior such decisions that were routinely ignored.
Yemen sells thousands of tons of fish each year to neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and also to the EU.
The government ban did not accomplish the desired results, as fish prices remained practically constant throughout the country.
Fish vendors in the southern port city of Al-Mukalla told Arab News that prices remained high, citing a lack of supply in the market.
“Please don’t blame the sellers for the soaring pricing. The fish in the market is sparse,” Abdul Kader Al-Jefri, a fish seller, said, adding that Yemeni fishermen had stopped sailing farther into the sea to bring seafood owing to high fuel expenses.
“Fishermen often spend 300,000 riyals each trip to sea, and they sometimes return empty-handed or with a little catch.”
Next to Al-Jefri, another fish vendor lamented that the costs of all commodities, not just fish, had risen rapidly in Yemen, leaving them with no choice but to sell fish at high prices.
“Why do you just discuss the cost of fish? A fish can cost more than 1,200 riyals,” he said.
Yemenis in coastal cities, like Al-Jefri, also attribute the rise in fish prices to the uncontrolled overfishing by commercial fishing vessels off Yemen’s shores and to fish exports.
Some Yemenis said that fish had disappeared from their lunch plates as a result of high pricing, while others shifted to less costly and smaller varieties of fish or purchased just a few pieces of fish and cooked them with vegetables.
“I have a big family, and I nearly stopped buying tuna. We switched from cooking fish to cooking vegetables,” Um Abdullah, a radish vendor at Al-Mukalla fish and vegetable market, told Arab News.