FUJAIRAH // A fortnight before the Formula One circus rolls into Abu Dhabi, another - albeit less glamourous - sporting showcase debuts in the east coast emirate of Fujairah today. Ten regional and international teams will cast off in the inaugural Fujairah Classic, a sports fishing tournament offering its winning team the bait of a berth in next year's International Game Fish Association (IGFA) Offshore World Championship in Mexico.
The three-day big fish event, where the winning team will be the one who land the heaviest catch, is being touted as Fujairah's entry into the worldwide sports fishing scene. Indeed, harnessing the Indian Ocean's abundant fish stocks to elevate the east coast as a must-see destination for the globe's ever-increasing fraternity of recreational anglers remains the organisers' primary objective. "Sport fishing can have three major benefits to a country, all of which fit our tagline - sustainability though sport," said Bruce Fennessey, the tournament director.
"What that means is showing how sport fishing can boost tourism, youth development in sport, and benefit the local society. Recreational fishing is a major pastime globally. In America alone, there are 57 million anglers and it accounts for more than a US$1billion (Dh3.67bn) a year in revenue. That's something we're looking to improve in the Middle East. "Sport fishing can be a very lucrative and something that benefits society. It doesn't happen straight away, and it takes five or six years to turn a corner. But it is a good start to hold a tournament like this in an area like Fujairah."
Sustainability is top of the organisers' agenda. To preserve fish stocks the event has strict catch limits, and will operate a "catch and release" policy for specific pelagic species, such as marlin and sailfish. "We want to build sports fishing in Fujairah, so we're focusing on the environment," said Fennessey. "Without fish there is no tournament, and there are only a very limited amount of species that we'll target. We have catch limits - that's a maximum of four fish, per day, per species.
"The onus is on the angler. If they look at a fish and think it won't make the cut, the idea is to release it back into the water." According to Fennessey, seasonal averages of certain species - those which can be brought ashore and weighed - could see the Fujairah Classic's winning catch top the scales at more than 75kgs. "We're looking at certain species: mahi mahi, dorado, yellowfin tuna, kingfish, queenfish, Spanish king mackrel - they are all generally, at this of year, between eight and 50kg. But the tuna can get right up to 120kgs," he said.
Feennessey's view of the rich supply of fish stocks off the Fujairah coastline was supported by Patrick Antaki, the general manager of Le Meridien Al Aqah, which is hosting the event alongside the Fujairah International Marine Club. "From what I have heard, the numbers of marlin and sail fish on the west coast has dwindled but in Fujairah, you can have catches galore," he said. @Email:email@example.com