The Kerkennah Islands form a small archipelago off the east coast of Tunisia, in the Mediterranean Sea. Earliest mention of the islands goes back to Phoenician times. They were occupied by the Romans, and— because of their strategic importance—were for centuries battled over in to-and-fro tussles between Ottoman and Western European powers. The islands are arid and low-lying, with the highest point being only 13 meters above sea level. Around 14,400 people live on the Kerkennahs, which have a subsistence economy focused mainly on fishing.
Some 2,000 fishing boats work out of the islands, most operating on a small scale and using age-old methods, such as shallow water fishing cages made with palm fronds.
For the past few decades, these traditional fishermen have found their livelihoods threatened by bottom trawling—the dragging of large nets along the seafloor. This fishing method not only dramatically reduces stocks, but uproots plants on the seafloor, destroying breeding grounds and leading to coastal erosion. Bottom trawling equipment often catches up conventional nets, and tows them far away from where they were set by their original owners. Laws banning bottom trawling in the area are openly flouted. According to some estimates, the local fishermen’s catch on the Kerkennahs has dropped by 50 percent in recent years.