Ministers in Bahrain have recently expressed concern about how their fishing industry seems to be run by expatriate workers. It has been suggested that only around 20 people in the entire Bahraini fishing industry are actually nationals; the rest have been imported to help fish. Indeed, the government claims that 96% of fishermen in Bahrain are actually foreign nationals.
For the authorities in Bahrain this represents two distinct projects which the government are keen to see an end to.
Firstly the government claims that foreign fishermen working from Bahrain are far less careful about what they catch. Rather than carefully fishing for specific sizes and types of fish, the foreign workers are accused of catching anything they can find. In cases where the boats have caught less-popular sea creatures such as jellyfish these are simply shipping abroad to other countries where they hold value.
As a result, the fishing industry in Bahrain is becoming more like “factory farming” with foreign-owned boats simply emptying the sea of anything and everything they find. Concerns for ecology – and the long-term survival of the fishing industry in Bahrain under such pressure – is causing a radical re-think on how fishing licenses are handed out.
It has been claimed that if this rampant, uncontrolled fishing is allowed to continue on then the Bahraini fishing industry could be crippled over the long term, as the seas off the coast are emptied of any edible life.
The second problem claimed is quite simply the number of native Bahraini fishermen who are missing out to better-funded or better-connected expat fishermen. After all, the government has surmised, shouldn’t local fishermen be given first pick over Bahrain’s marine opportunities? Worse, expat fishermen are of course more likely to filter money back out of the country, whilst native fishermen are more likely to keep their earnings within the borders of Bahrain.
Worryingly, financial aid is offered to fishermen in Bahrain, which can help to make the industry even more profitable. Too often the local government are finding these incentives going into foreign pockets – allowing the expat fishermen to get ever stronger. In contrast, local fishermen miss out on these financial incentives, and so are financially unable to compete.
If the government has anything to do with it however, changes are afoot. The changes will see more stringent checks on fishing license holders. Local Bahraini fishermen will be prioritized.
License-holders will also be expected to do the fishing themselves, rather than hiring in cheap foreign labour. Lastly, if the threats are to be believed, any boat caught breaking these rules would be banned from going out to sea for a set period of time.