x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Crab hunters spear their meal in UAQ

Summer heat does not stop crab hunting enthusiasts from wading into the water in search of their prey.

Guests of the Flamingo Beach Resort in Umm Al Qaiwain walk through the shallows of the mangrove swamp looking for crustaceans. Below, their haul of blue swimmer crabs.
Guests of the Flamingo Beach Resort in Umm Al Qaiwain walk through the shallows of the mangrove swamp looking for crustaceans. Below, their haul of blue swimmer crabs.

UMM AL QAIWAIN // A dozen crouching, dark figures push their way through the steamy mangrove swamp, spears at the ready.

The group seems oblivious to the uncomfortable evening humidity, prodding the sand before them as hunters have done for centuries.

One lunges with her spear, seeing her prey in the dim glow of the torch attached to their boat.

"I found one," Claire Tate screams, pulling out her spear with a crab dangling from the end as the group gathers around her to cheer.

Ms Tate and her fiance were taking part in a beginners' crab hunt organised by the Flamingo Beach Resort in Umm Al Qaiwain. Whatever they catch will be served up to them at the resort that night.

"We've never done this before and had no idea how to do it," she says.

Her fiance, Christo Tromp of South Africa, says the couple wanted to try something different this summer.

"We got this offer through a discount website and thought it would be an exciting way to spend the weekend," Mr Tromp says.

"People normally go away to different places but we thought this would be something unique to do. It's more exciting than just going to a restaurant and ordering them off a menu."

Hunting crab was a source of livelihood for the Asian fishermen and local inhabitants of the coastal areas. The resort turned it into a pastime when it began offering the hunt 10 years ago.

The public is banned from hunting the crustaceans in the three-month breeding period that ends in June.

Outside of that time, spearing crabs has become a popular group activity in the northern emirate.

Ali Salamah, the sales manager at the Flamingo Beach Resort, says the family event now has more than 1,200 people taking part each year.

"This is a leisure trip and many people come out here to experience it with their children," Mr Salamah says. "During this season, we have more than 70 guests every weekend who are taken by our guides to different parts of the mangrove to look for crabs.

"The highlight is that what they catch is later served to them in a buffet, which makes it even more appealing."

Although it satisfies the outdoor enthusiasts' desire for adventure, crab hunting has drawn sharp criticism from some environmentalists.

Matthew Cocks, the general manager of the field studies team at Ecoventure, which organises environmental camps for students, says overhunting in the mangroves has resulted in a decline of the blue swimmer crab in that area.

"These mangroves are a breeding centre for these crabs, and with the crabbing they are taking too many," Mr Cocks says. "A customer hunts for more than one and they take the female, which is full of eggs, too."

He says this has had an enormous impact on the population and more regulations should be in place to ensure there is no excessive catch.

But Mr Salamah says excessive catch is not an issue with his groups as they are not doing it for commercial purposes.

"You are not affecting the crab population because each boat does not catch more than 10 crabs, and this would be the general catch by the local fishermen in this area anyway," he says.

Ahmed Detta, a businessman from Dubai who took part in the hour-long expedition, says it is an opportunity to bond with friends.

"We had a good time, though we could have benefited with some more guidance on how to catch them," Mr Detta says.

"But overall, being out there wading through the cool water helps clear your mind and is very relaxing."

aahmed@thenational.ae

The Flamingo Beach Resort has nightly crab hunts, with snacks and dinner. Life jackets and equipment are provided by the resort. The cost isDh190 for adults and Dh110 for children.