x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Debate rages over dwindling number of Emirati fishermen in UAE

The Minister of Environment and Water and the Federal National Council disagree on why Emirati fishermen are leaving the trade.

ABU DHABI // A decline in Gulf fish stocks is behind recent falls in the number of Emirati fishermen, the Minister of Environment and Water told the Federal National Council last week.

At Tuesday's session, Ali Al Nuaimi (Ajman) told the minister, Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, that half of the Emirati fishermen have left the trade because of a lack of government support and financial aid. The minister disagreed.

"The field of fishing is known to be supported," he said. "They left because the number of catches has declined by 85 per cent since 1970."

If that were true, said Mr Al Nuaimi, a Ministry of Economy study would not have found a need for fishermen to be supported in marketing their products.

"The Ministry spoke of supporting the selling of the fish," he said. "That means they have fish but have not received support. So it is not a problem of a shortage of fish."

He said fishing was an important profession to keep alive, particularly in the UAE, where residents consume an average of 33kg of fish a year - the highest in the Gulf.

That, he said, "makes it an urgent need to remove all burdens fishermen face and provide them with necessary needs, and lowering financial burdens on them."

A five-day fishing trip could cost up to Dh4,500, he said, with 70 per cent of that going on fuel.

While he was glad of the support that fishermen have already received, including the setting up of fishermen's societies, he said more was needed.

He said the shortage of Emirati fishermen made it hard to meet the requirement for one to be on board every fishing trip.

"And the hardship of going on a several-day trip, which has made Emiratis leave the profession and the fishing business, has left them renting out their boats to Asian workers," he said.

The result, he said, was that Asian workers were controlling the trade, so only 10 per cent of the Dh1 billion made by fishing each year was going to Emiratis and the government.

He said government fees should be lower, and they needed to be able to bring expatriate workers into the country more easily.

The Minister pointed out that the Ministry of Labour had already reduced these fees.

osalam@thenational.ae