Lebanon’s spearfishers fight to preserve stocks

Rachid Zock, a 38-year-old Lebanese freediving and spearfishing instructor, takes aim with his speargun, while diving off of the coast of Qalamun in northern Lebanon, in a bid to promote regulated spearfishing and raise awareness against fast-depleting aquatic wildlife. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018
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Lebanon’s spearfishers fight to preserve stocks

  • Rachid Zock and his friends say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon’s fast-depleting aquatic wildlife.
  • The European Commission estimates that 90 percent of fish species surveyed in the Mediterranean are overfished,

TRIPOLI: Hunting fish with spear guns may seem like a counterintuitive way to save Lebanon’s dwindling marine life, but a growing community of freedivers argues it is a potent awareness-raising tool.
At 5:00 am, three men park their car in the northern port of Qalamun. Grabbing their fins, masks and spear guns, they board a boat and set out to sea.
Wrapped in tight camouflage wetsuits as they skim across the silvered water, these amateur underwater hunters resemble their counterparts the world over.
Rachid Zock and his friends say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon’s fast-depleting aquatic wildlife.
Zock, 38, a freediving and spearfishing instructor, says he has seen Lebanon’s fish populations drop in the three decades he has been exploring its waters.
“I started fishing underwater aged seven, and I used to see so many fish of different shapes and sizes. But they’ve diminished over the years,” he says.
The divers float, head down on the water like tree leaves.
Suddenly, one of them duck dives, piercing the surface as he heads vertically into the blue.
Others watch through their masks to make sure he is safe, as he fins a dozen meters (yards) down, clutching his spear gun.
He can stay down for more than two minutes on a single breath.
The fish populations living off Lebanon’s northern coastline have shrunk in recent years, fishermen say.
And the European Commission estimates that 90 percent of fish species surveyed in the Mediterranean are overfished, it said in April 2017 following a study.
The EC launched an initiative with non European Union countries — dubbed MedFish4Ever — to address the issue after a ministerial conference last year.
But Lebanon, which had 7,000 fishermen in 2014 and where fishing only makes up a tiny part of the economy, has not signed up.
Faysal Tawokji, 25, says he has been diving to set up underwater fish traps every day for 12 years.
“I was catching 40 kilos (just over 88 pounds) of fish a day in 2016 but that decreased to half the next year,” he says.
His income has not improved since.
“I’ve lost hope and decided to leave Lebanon — because of the small catches and the competition from imported fish at half the price,” says the young fisherman.
Retired fisherman Hassan Mallat, 74, says Lebanon’s fish stocks are hit by pollution, bad practices and overfishing.
“Some fishermen have deliberately tightened their net holes to grab more produce,” he says, looking up from below his old goggles.
“They are preventing small fish from growing and multiplying. Bigger fish that succeed in fleeing toward the shore to lay eggs are caught by traps.”
Spearfishing instructor Zock says that, when treated properly, the sea’s resources replenish themselves.
He gives the example of July 2006, when a war between Lebanese militia Hezbollah and neighboring Israel rocked the country.
“Fishermen stayed at home for a month. Back at sea, they noticed fish numbers had increased,” he says.
“The sea’s ability to regenerate life instigated my initiative,” Zock adds with a wide smile.
The instructor started the Freedive Lebanon club alone, but by 2017 it had 90 members, he says.
He insists that all members have a spearfishing license, which comes on condition that catching fish at night, or using any machine, is forbidden.
“Many fish sleep in shallow water at night. Spearfishing then would be a knockout blow,” he says.
After an hour of diving, the spearfishermen have still not caught anything, and move to another spot.
Soon, one of them fins up to the surface with the first catch of the day, a large glistening brown fish with rounded side fins.
Beyond their community, Zock and his fellow aquatic enthusiasts also do their best to speak to fishermen about preserving Lebanon’s underwater wildlife.
“We explain when to stop fishing certain species according to their mating and spawning seasons, and hunt others instead,” Zock says.
Several times a year, as egg-laying approaches for different species, they invite fishermen to awareness sessions.
But not all of them are receptive, Zock says.
Some fishermen “stand against our campaigns because they insist on grabbing everything they can as fast as possible,” he adds.
Lebanese law bans dynamite and poison fishing, while also since July 2010 regulating the size of fishing nets, but many complain those rules are not enforced.
Abdulkader Alameddin, the mayor of Mina’s Tripoli district, says bad practices by a few have affected the livelihoods of all fishermen.
All the municipality can do is “hand recommendations to concerned departments based on fishermen’s complaints,” he says.
But with no law enforcement, the problem persists, says Zock.
“Politicians cover for those who break the rules because those fishermen become voters during elections,” he says.
Mallat, the retired fisherman, says the government must do more.
“The government doesn’t support fishermen to abstain from work for four months a year to regenerate sea life.”
“And it doesn’t set fish prices” to ensure a decent income, he says.
Sitting in his boat, fisherman Khaled Salloum, 50, admits his tightly knotted net is prohibited.
“But if the government actually (enforced) regulated fishing I’d be first to burn my net” and use a legal one, he says.
Four hours have elapsed. One of the amateur freedivers guts and cleans the only catch of the day.
“We got our fish today,” says Jamal Hilal, 28, flinging its guts and scales into the water.
“It’s time to give back to the sea.”


UK’s Prince Philip ‘shocked and shaken’ after car crash

Updated 18 January 2019
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UK’s Prince Philip ‘shocked and shaken’ after car crash

  • Prince Philip’s vehicle turned on its side after pulling out of a Sandringham driveway onto a main road and colliding with the Kia
  • Philip, known for his forthright manner and off-color jokes, formally retired from public life in 2017

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II’s 97-year-old husband Prince Philip was “very shocked and shaken” after being involved in a car accident that left his Land Rover flipped on its side, a witness reportedly said.
The duke emerged unharmed but two people in another car were injured in the crash that occurred Thursday when the duke was driving near the Sandringham Estate, according to police and Buckingham Palace.
Norfolk Police said two women — the driver and passenger of a Kia — required hospital treatment but were later discharged. It would not confirm reports that a baby was also in the car.
The BBC reported that Prince Philip’s vehicle turned on its side after pulling out of a Sandringham driveway onto a main road and colliding with the Kia.
Witness Roy Warne, 75, told The Sun newspaper that the Prince was pulled from the wreckage “conscious” but “very shocked and shaken.”
“I saw the car flip,” he said, adding that he rushed to help free the driver before he “suddenly realized it was Prince Philip.”
An image from the accident scene published by a local radio station showed two cars by the side of the road, one on its side with a smashed windscreen and another a few yards away in bushes.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle this afternoon,” the palace said in a statement.
“The Duke was not injured. The accident took place close to the Sandringham Estate. Local police attended the scene.”
She added that the duke saw a doctor “as a precaution” who confirmed he was not hurt.
Norfolk Police said, in accordance with policy in collisions, it breathalyzed both drivers.
“We can confirm both drivers were breath tested and provided negative readings,” the force added.
It said officers were called to the estate shortly before 3:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) “after a Land Rover and Kia were involved in a collision.”
“The male driver of the Land Rover was uninjured,” it added.
“The female driver of the Kia suffered cuts while the female passenger sustained an arm injury, both requiring hospital treatment.”
The Press Association reported that there was a passenger in the duke’s vehicle who was likely his close protection officer
The royal couple spends most of the winter at the residence in Norfolk, an English county northeast of London, which continues to operate as a sporting estate.
Philip, known for his forthright manner and off-color jokes, formally retired from public life in 2017.
He has been seen behind the wheel on numerous occasions over the decade, including with world leaders and dignitaries as his passengers.
In 2016, alongside the Queen he drove former US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle around Windsor Castle in a Range Rover after they landed nearby in the presidential helicopter.
Meanwhile the duke continued to compete in demanding carriage-driving competitions into his 80s, and has previously pulled muscles in his back while driving his horse-drawn carriage.
Philip described in an interview how he took up carriage driving when he gave up polo aged 50, helping to establish it as a sport in subsequent years.
Born a prince of Greece and Denmark, he married then princess Elizabeth on November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey in London.
On their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, she said of him: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”