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With no Emirati on board, dhows are forced to sit idle

The noukhada, the term for the lead fisherman or the boat's captain, is a rare profession among Emiratis in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // In Port Zayed, dozens of fishing dhows are moored near the platform housing the fish market, restaurants and shops. Fishermen, mostly Indians, assemble steel traps, called gargur, and stack them nearby. Others sit at the stern of their boats playing cards and drinking tea. The water is cooling down and fish are abundant, the men say, but they cannot go out on the water.

The reason: the Government says they must have an Emirati on board as the lead fisherman to be able to leave the harbour. The noukhada the term for the lead fisherman or the boat's captain is a rare profession among Emiratis in Abu Dhabi. Fishermen in Abu Dhabi have to search daily for one who will agree to join their boat. The process is not easy and the cost is high. Some ships are docked for weeks during the search for a noukhada, who often demands about Dh1,800 (US$500) to be on the ship for three or four days, the fishermen say.

Jaysukhbhai Parbhubhai Patel, 43, an Indian fishermen who has been working out of Abu Dhabi's dhows for the past 22 years, said he has been looking for a noukhada for two weeks with no luck. Using a simplified version of Arabic spoken by Indian and Pakistani workers, he said his boat, which is owned by an Emirati, would fish two to three times a month if a noukhada were available. "He doesn't do anything, he just sits in the boat," Mr Patel said as he sat on the boat with a half-dozen men. "He's not a fisherman."

He said he was hoping a noukhada from Sharjah would show up before the weekend. Most of the boats have four to five Asian fishermen who live and work out of them. They usually split the revenue with the Emirati owner. On a normal fishing trip, Mr Patel said, they would earn around Dh8,000, almost half of which goes to operating costs, including diesel fuel, food and noukhada fees. The issue has alarmed members of the Federal National Council this week, and they asked the Government to take action.

Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment, told members of the FNC that it was the security services who demanded an Emirati should be present in fishing boats. mhabboush@thenational.ae

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