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Fresh fish land back in Tripoli street markets

14 september 2011, 16:39
©RIA Novosti
©RIA Novosti
Fishermen in the Libyan capital are bringing back fresh fish to the streets but foreign workers have been slower to return and the traditional market still needs a final scrub before opening, AFP reports.

"This is the first week that we are selling fresh fish since the war," said Hamada Mohammed, age 34, showing off his catch of bright-eyed greater amberjacks, leerfish and skipjack tunas.

For the first few months of the conflict, once the Egyptians who had traditionally fished Libya's waters fled, Tripoli's fishmongers would travel to Tunisia to buy the catch of their counterparts across the border.

"When that road closed in March we started selling whatever frozen fish we had in stock," said Mohammed.

The fishermen told AFP that their business took a huge hit from the air and sea blockade NATO slapped on their country and that only veterans of the trade ventured out in their dinghies despite the warplanes.

"We are not satisfied with NATO at all," Walid Ali, 31, said. "It damaged my business, my country and people were killed."

"Of course we needed to fix our country but we didn't want wars or bombs to do it," he added.

Ali and Mohammed say that they used to earn up to 90 Libyan dinars ($73) per day before the country slipped into civil war. Now they are earning half of that because prices have gone up and demand has gone down.

They estimate it will be another three months for the market's full revival.

An old man with calloused hands and a chiselled face snaps frozen red mullets apart, soaks them in a tub of water and then tosses them casually into a faded green crate. Some miss the mark and land on the street.

"Fish got really expensive because we couldn't go out to sea," said Haj Nuri, 70, adding that during the war only the five metre long dinghies could go to the sea but the big boats couldn't.

An average fishing dinghy can carry up to 15 men but during the conflict the wharf was short of seasoned hands as thousands of foreigners including some 700 Egyptian fishermen, who dominated the trade, fled the capital, he said.

Deep sea fishing boats which could haul over three tonnes of catch have been anchored still for months due to the lack of labour and only a few dinghies bob on the horizon.

Rabiya, 31, sells a mix of fresh and frozen catches.

"We used to sell all kinds of fresh fish before the war but now it is mostly frozen," he said. The market closed completely in the second half of February after the revolt against Moamer Kadhafi started.

Business continued with stops and starts between March and May before grounding to a halt in June. With Tripoli last month overrun by rebel forces and Kadhafi fleeing, the capital is now spluttering back to normal life.

"We had to protect ourselves because there were arbitrary shootings. You could go outside but there was no guarantee you would come back," Rabiya said, pointing at a wall of the wharf which was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

A bus with broken windows and pro-revolutionary graffiti stands witness to a battle fought between forces loyal to Kadhafi and rebels just a stone's throw from the fish market.

The fishermen are selling the produce on impromptu stalls in the wharf because the interior market -- a simple but sophisticated white complex -- still needs to a deep clean to clear the smell of rotten, abandoned stock.

Except for a broken window and an overpowering stench, the market of 50 stalls is in mint condition, white tiles shining, counters ready for action but fish mongers are nowhere in sight.

"They are still sleeping," joked Ashraf Mohammed, owner of stall nine.

Plasma screens that once displayed prices of the catch of the day hang on the walls intact. Framed posters depict fish of every kind and document their name in both English and Arabic.

"Almost 600 families ate from this fishmarket so it is important for us to open again," he said.

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