Kerkennah is a small archipelago of ten islands in the Gulf of Gabes, not far from the city of Sfax. The gulf is known as the “nursery of the Mediterranean” because of the underwater meadows of Posidonia seagrass that make it a perfect habitat for fish reproduction. Unfortunately in recent years the gulf area has undergone a slow erosion. The symbol of the islands is the date palm, and for centuries date farming was a vital activity for the local population, along with artisanal fishing. Now the date palm is under threat, replaced by more profitable crops like olives. Date palm leaves, traditionally used for producing fishing equipment, are gradually being replaced by plastic, as are other materials found on the island (terracotta, alfalfa). But the biggest threat facing the islands is climate change. Kerkennah is one of the most vulnerable places in the Mediterranean. Its climate is increasingly arid, the sea level is rising and so are temperatures. In this already-fragile environment, illegal dragnet fishing is threatening the Posidonia meadows and fish stocks are in inexorable decline.
The charfia, a kind of fixed maze built by lining up thousands of palm fronds, is emblematic of the islands’ artisanal fishing. Thanks to the currents, it drives fish towards capture chambers. The management system adopted by the islanders is unique in Arab-Muslim seas: the island families own plots of sea where charfia structures are passed down through the generations. Traditionally the charfia is rebuilt every year and the fish are caught with respect for their natural reproductive times, unlike modern charfia, which are fixed structures left in the sea for up to three consecutive years. Date palm fronds are also used to make traps called drina with a double cone, which fish and octopus can enter but not easily escape from. Another traditional fishing method involves gargoulettes, terracotta amphorae traditionally used to hold water or wine. But in Kerkennah and elsewhere along the Tunisian coast they are placed in the sea, not far from the shore, and used as traps for octopus, which enter seeking shelter but then can no longer leave. The traditionally produced drina and gargoulettes are being replaced by equivalents in plastic, which are abandoned in the sea when no longer needed.
These traditional methods are used to catch annular sea bream, two-banded sea bream, salema porgy, gilthead sea bream, leaping mullet, red mullet, octopus, sole, sea bass, wrasse, painted comber and others. Everyone who tries fish caught in a charfia agrees that it is tastier, because the fish waits calmly, unwounded, until the fishermen come along to catch them.
With the creation of the Presidium, this group of artisanal fishers is committed to using traditional fishing methods and integrating fishing with agriculture; they also tend to the date palms that represent a key element of the island ecosystem.
Kerkennah islands, Gulf of Gabes
Presidium supported by:
Hafed Ben Moussa
Hafed Ben Moussa