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      trishahornsby2
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      <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Rachid Zock and his fellow freedivers say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon's fast-depleting aquatic wildlife </div> <noscript> Rachid Zock and his fellow freedivers say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon's fast-depleting aquatic wildlife </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Rachid Zock and his fellow freedivers say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon’s fast-depleting aquatic wildlife</p> </div> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Wrapped in tight camouflage wetsuits as they skim across the silvered water, these amateur underwater hunters resemble their counterparts the world over.</p> <p>Rachid Zock and his friends say that by promoting regulated spearfishing, they are also defending Lebanon’s fast-depleting aquatic wildlife.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>”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.</p> <p>The divers float, head down on the water like tree leaves.</p> <p>Suddenly, one of them duck dives, piercing the surface as he heads vertically into the blue.</p> <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Zock, a freediving and spearfishing instructor, says he has seen Lebanon's fish populations drop in the three decades he has been exploring its waters </div> <noscript> Zock, a freediving and spearfishing instructor, says he has seen Lebanon's fish populations drop in the three decades he has been exploring its waters </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Zock, a Freediving Watch and spearfishing instructor, Freediving Fins says he has seen Lebanon’s fish populations drop in the three decades he has been exploring its waters</p> </div> <p>Others watch through their masks to make sure he is safe, as he fins a dozen metres (yards) down, clutching his spear gun.</p> <p>He can stay down for more than two minutes on a single breath.</p> <p>- Overfishing -</p> <p>The fish populations living off Lebanon’s northern coastline have shrunk in recent years, fishermen say.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The EC launched an initiative with non European Union countries — dubbed MedFish4Ever — to address the issue after a ministerial conference last year.</p> <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Members of the Freedive Lebanon club all have a spearfishing licence which forbids them catching fish at night or using any machine, its founder Rachid Zock says </div> <noscript> Members of the Freedive Lebanon club all have a spearfishing licence which forbids them catching fish at night or using any machine, its founder Rachid Zock says </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Members of the Freedive Lebanon club all have a spearfishing licence which forbids them catching fish at night or using any machine, its founder Rachid Zock says</p> </div> <p>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.</p> <p>Faysal Tawokji, 25, says he has been diving to set up underwater fish traps every day for 12 years.</p> <p>”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.</p> <p>His income has not improved since.</p> <p>”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.</p> <p>- Chance to replenish -</p> <p>Retired fisherman Hassan Mallat, 74, says Lebanon’s fish stocks are hit by pollution, bad practices and overfishing.</p> <p>”Some fishermen have deliberately tightened their net holes to grab more produce,” he says, looking up from below his old goggles.</p> <p>”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.”</p> <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Lebanese freedivers like Rachid Zock (L) and Jamal Hilal dive vertically into the water clutching a spear gun to hunt for fish while holding their breath </div> <noscript> Lebanese freedivers like Rachid Zock (L) and Jamal Hilal dive vertically into the water clutching a spear gun to hunt for fish while holding their breath </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Lebanese freedivers like Rachid Zock (L) and Jamal Hilal dive vertically into the water clutching a spear gun to hunt for fish while holding their breath</p> </div> <p>Spearfishing instructor Zock says that, when treated properly, the sea’s resources replenish themselves.</p> <p>He gives the example of July 2006, when a war between Lebanese militia Hezbollah and neighbouring Israel rocked the country.</p> <p>”Fishermen stayed at home for a month. Back at sea, they noticed fish numbers had increased,” he says.</p> <p>”The sea’s ability to regenerate life instigated my initiative,” Zock adds with a wide smile.</p> <p>The instructor started the Freedive Lebanon club alone, but by 2017 it had 90 members, he says.</p> <p>He insists that all members have a spearfishing licence, which comes on condition that catching fish at night, or using any machine, is forbidden.</p> <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Lebanon's spearfishing instructor Rachid Zock says that, when treated properly, the sea's resources replenish themselves </div> <noscript> Lebanon's spearfishing instructor Rachid Zock says that, when treated properly, the sea's resources replenish themselves </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Lebanon’s spearfishing instructor Rachid Zock says that, when treated properly, the sea’s resources replenish themselves</p> </div> <p>”Many fish sleep in shallow water at night. Spearfishing then would be a knockout blow,” he says.</p> <p>After an hour of diving, the spearfishermen have still not caught anything, and move to another spot.</p> <p>Soon, one of them fins up to the surface with the first catch of the day, Freediving Suit a large glistening brown fish with rounded side fins.</p> <p>- ‘Fishermen become voters’ -</p> <p>Beyond their community, Zock and his fellow aquatic enthusiasts also do their best to speak to fishermen about preserving Lebanon’s underwater wildlife.</p> <p>”We explain when to stop fishing certain species according to their mating and spawning seasons, and hunt others instead,” Zock says.</p> <div class=”artSplitter mol-img-group”> <div> <div class=”image-wrap”> Several times a year, as egg-laying approaches for different species, the freedivers invite fishermen to awareness sessions about preserving Lebanon's underwater wildlife </div> <noscript> Several times a year, as egg-laying approaches for different species, the freedivers invite fishermen to awareness sessions about preserving Lebanon's underwater wildlife </noscript> </div> <p class=”imageCaption”>Several times a year, as egg-laying approaches for different species, the freedivers invite fishermen to awareness sessions about preserving Lebanon’s underwater wildlife</p> </div> <p>Several times a year, as egg-laying approaches for different species, they invite fishermen to awareness sessions.</p> <p>But not all of them are receptive, Zock says.</p> <p>Some fishermen “stand against our campaigns because they insist on grabbing everything they can as fast as possible,” he adds.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Abdulkader Alameddin, the mayor of Mina’s Tripoli district, says bad practices by a few have affected the livelihoods of all fishermen.</p> <p>All the municipality can do is “hand recommendations to concerned departments based on fishermen’s complaints,” he says.</p> <p>But with no law enforcement, the problem persists, says Zock.</p> <p>”Politicians cover for those who break the rules because those fishermen become voters during elections,” he says.</p> <p>Mallat, the retired fisherman, says the government must do more.</p> <p>”The government doesn’t support fishermen to abstain from work for four months a year to regenerate sea life.”</p> <p>”And it doesn’t set fish prices” to ensure a decent income, he says.</p> <p>Sitting in his boat, fisherman Khaled Salloum, 50, Freediving Watch admits his tightly knotted net is prohibited.</p> <p>”But if the government actually (enforced) regulated fishing I’d be first to burn my net” and use a legal one, he says.</p> <p>Four hours have elapsed.

      One of the amateur freedivers guts and cleans the only catch of the day.</p> <p>”We got our fish today,” says Jamal Hilal, 28, flinging its guts and scales into the water.</p> <p>”It’s time to give back to the sea.”</p></div>
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