x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Tide turns at Mina Zayed fish souq with planned move opposite Saadiyat

Abu Dhabi's fish market at Mina Zayed, one of the oldest commercial areas in the capital, is to move to the edge of the mainland opposite Saadiyat Island.

The fish market is being demolished to make room for hotels, restaurants, apartments and a media zone.
The fish market is being demolished to make room for hotels, restaurants, apartments and a media zone.

Abu Dhabi's fish market at Mina Zayed, one of the oldest commercial areas in the capital, is to move to the edge of the mainland opposite Saadiyat Island and will not be part of a new shopping mall as previously announced. The change in plan marks a turnaround for the developer of the Mushrif Mall, which had publicised the bustling fish market as a centrepiece of its 180,000 square metre shopping centre.

The new port and fish market will comprise 52,000 sq metres, and is being built on a reclaimed plot of land next to Saadiyat Bridge, said Ali Mansouri, the general manager of the Abu Dhabi Fishermen Co-operative Society. Construction of the new facility, featuring an enclosed market, dock space for 600 boats, housing for fishermen and new administrative offices, began at the start of this year, Mr Mansouri said.

"All the fish boats will come here and we will have a very modern fish market - a modern ice factory, modern administration," he said. This is in stark contrast to the plan discussed more than a year ago. The Mina Zayed market, which is more than 20 years old and is being demolished to make way for hotels, restaurants, apartments and a new media zone, was planned to be relocated to a site at the new Mushrif Mall in central Abu Dhabi.

The mall, which is being developed by Line Investments and Property, the subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi-based Emke Group, will still feature a fresh market for fish, meat and vegetables covering 25,000 sq metres, but it is unknown if the fishermen will move there. "We don't know yet, the Government has to take the decision," said Yusuff Ali, the managing director of Emke. But Mr Mansouri said the fishermen's society had never intended to move the market, a popular tourist destination, inland.

"Before, our [new] place was supposed to be opposite the Hilton, near the heritage club," he said. "But it's very small, it's not enough for the people. So that's why the Government discussed this [site]." The new location was being developed by the Abu Dhabi Centre for Housing and Facilities Development. Regardless of where the new home will be for Abu Dhabi's 1,600 or so fishermen, some people are lamenting the loss of the Mina Zayed market as one of the few remaining locations with a character that hint at the emirate's early merchant past.

Yousif Mohammed al Binali, an Emirati who works as a business manager but comes from a long line of fishermen, said the fish market was a key component of its heritage. "This is part of our history," said Mr al Binali, who also managed two stalls in the fish market. Mr Mansouri agreed that the country's heritage sites should be preserved, but said the current market was in dire need of improvements.

"It's very old," he said. "When they made this fish market there were a lot of things missing." The new market will include affordable housing for the fishermen, and will accommodate between 300 and 400 of them between trips out to sea, Mr Mansouri said. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority will also have an office at the new location to ensure the safety of the food, he said. And there will be 200 parking spaces.

Renovating the Mina Zayed market would involve displacing the fishermen and disrupting the fish trade, Mr Mansouri said. The bustle would continue at the Mina Zayed market until the new site was complete. The timing of the move was unclear, but it could be more than two years from now, he said. The new market will be built in the Arabic style to reflect the nation's heritage and will be about 1.5 times larger than the existing market.

"We are looking towards the future also," Mr Mansouri said. "This port must be enough for the future." aligaya@thenational.ae