Regional

Hungry Yemenis eyeing fish catch blame exports for prohibitive prices

A customer checks the fish display at a fish market in Aden, Yemen, August 31, 2021. Picture taken August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman

ADEN: Ahmed al-Yafei watched fishermen unloading boxes of catfish from small boats docked in the bustling port of Aden in south Yemen, keen to buy some for his hungry family - before realising he could not afford it.

"The cost of a kilogram has reached 7,000-8,000 riyals ($8). That is the equivalent of red meat prices. It's a disaster for us!" Yafei said in the buzzing fish market, where fishmongers stood at wooden tables piled with kingfish, squid or red snapper from the day's catch.

"We used to buy fish at around 2,000 riyals, or up to 3,000 when it was very expensive. Now a kilogram of kingfish can be 10,000 riyals," he said.

The riyal trades at about 1,030 to the dollar on the black market, the widely used rate, compared with an official rate of 580.

Yemenis in the south of a country shattered and divided by six years of war blame spiralling food inflation in part on fish exports to neighbouring countries especially Saudi Arabia.

Large amounts of the catch from the rich fishing waters of the Red and Arabian seas off south Yemen were exported before the war as well, but the riyal was still strong enough for most local Yemenis to eat fish regularly.

But the riyal's wartime plunge has made fish a prohibitive luxury for those without hard currency. Moreover, most of Yemen's 29 million people can now get by only with some form of humanitarian aid.

Local fishermen say fish prices have generally doubled due to soaring fuel prices that have squeezed their margins, and many prefer to send their catch abroad for hard currency.

Some impoverished Yemenis are fed up. Dozens in the southern province of Abyan blocked seafood trucks on the main road to Saudi Arabia last week, and threatened further protests if fish prices stay prohibitive.

"The wealth of our seas goes elsewhere while poor Yemenis struggle to put food on the table," said protester Mohammad al-Mayssari.

As a possible solution, Hashem Rabei, head of Aden's fishermen association, suggested the Aden-based government suspend fish exports for three months. "That could be enough time to conduct a review that would help cut prices," he said.

Yemen is split between an internationally recognised government in the south, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that holds most of the north and the main Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

The Saudi-backed government based in Aden has blamed the Houthis for conflict-induced inflation and accused them of squandering $4 billion of national bank reserves on the war. The Houthis say they are fighting graft and foreign invaders.

 

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