x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

New fishing regulations reel in mixed feelings in Fujairah

While the fishermen understand the reasons for the Ministry of Environment and Water's rules, they say it is making their profession increasingly unviable.

FUJAIRAH // Hassan Abdullah was 12 when he first learned to fish. He and his brother would fish together after his father died.

Mr Abdullah later worked at the post office for 12 years until he resigned to become a full-time fisherman to raise his nine children.

“Before my resignation, I would go into the sea only after Al Asr afternoon prayer after work. I would miss half the day in the sea,” he said.

After leaving his job, he would go out to sea twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon.

As a fisherman, he initially made Dh20,000 to Dh25,000 a month before seeing his earnings rise to Dh54,000 over time.

“I got a house and good furniture and my situation became much better,” said Mr Abdullah. “All this is thanks to the blessings from God and the sea.”

Now aged 63 and a father of 13 children, Mr Abdullah is worried that fishing regulations threaten his livelihood.

Although he supports environmental regulations such as restrictions on the period of the fishing season and opposes fishing practices that could harm fish eggs, he feels that fishermen are left to struggle by themselves.

“Regardless of the fact that fishing is my means of living, the community needs this fish, this is food that people all over the world need and enjoy,” he said.

“Now everything is banned. The Ministry of Environment [and Water] has issued a statement banning everything.

“I have like seven jobs in the sea, and with this statement they are all banned except one. And even this one might be banned later, which will send me home.”

But not all fishermen feel that regulations harm business.

“The ministry regulations on fishing aim to preserve fish resources,” said Khalifa Masood, the vice chairman of the Fujairah Cooperative Society for Fishermen, of which Mr Abdullah is a member. The organisation has about 500 members, including Emirati and Asian fishermen.

“There are specific seasons for fishing, depending on the types of fish. These laws are beneficial to fishermen and fish stocks.”

In the past year the ministry issued a package of decrees on fisheries and marine environments. It is planning a new set of decrees for this year.

The decrees announced include those on the prevention of catching and trade of small fish, and the fishing and marketing of the badeh fish (long tail silver biddy). The ministry has also regulated fishing by nets, fishing with traps known as gargours, and shark-fishing.

Last year, the ministry temporarily halted the issuance of new licences for fishing boats and identified certain areas where the use of gill nets is permissible.

Mr Abdullah said workers were now feeling the impact.

“The problem is that the ministry treats the Indian Ocean like it treats the Gulf. They should not be assessed in the same way,” he said.

Fujairah is the only emirate with no coastline on the Arabian Gulf.

“The salinity level is higher in the ocean and the sea level is lower in the Gulf,” said Mr Abdullah. “This is because there is not much rain now, as was the case in the 1950s and 1960s. The rain keeps the salinity to a moderate level and therefore fish move closer and increase in amount.”

According to the ministry, there are no differences in federal rules for fishing in the Arabian Gulf or in the Indian Ocean, though it recognises that the two oceanic bodies have different characteristics and fishing practices differ along the two coastlines.

The ministry said it was working closely with fishermen cooperatives and authorities in individual emirates in producing legislation relevant to the specific regions.

“Fishermen are also encouraged to fill up regular questionnaires and provide input on their fishing experience, the use of various equipment and various socio-economic aspects which are used as a basis for these laws,” said a ministry spokesman.

Mr Abdullah said although the ministry had “the right to remind us of such concerns but they should not ban me from fishing”.

He said: “They should make it easy for us and let us do the work, which I am not willing to quit until I am no longer able to do it.

“I have people working for me from outside of the UAE and they subsist on this work.”

lcarroll@thenational.ae