x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Struggling fishermen fight ban on weekend work

Fishermen are calling for the reversal of a ban on fishing at weekends in the Kalba area of Sharjah.

Fishermen unload their catch into a lorry. Authorities have banned weekend fishing near the Kalba beaches of Sharjah.
Fishermen unload their catch into a lorry. Authorities have banned weekend fishing near the Kalba beaches of Sharjah.

SHARJAH // Fishermen struggling to make ends meet are calling for the reversal of a ban on fishing at weekends in the coastal Kalba area. Kalba Municipality Council last week banned all types of fishing on Fridays and Saturdays. Officials want fishermen to observe the Islamic holy day on Friday, devoting their time to praying instead of fishing. The municipality also suggested that the fishing activities on Saturdays were putting off tourists.

However, the fishermen say the restrictions will cause a significant drop in their income. Dr Abdullah al Shwykh, the council's chairman, said: "We want the fishermen to share the sea waters with other people - the tourists only need Friday and Saturday to enjoy the beaches. The rest of the days can be for the fishermen alone." Some fishermen, angry at the decision, tried to flout the ban last Saturday, taking to the sea as usual. However, they were stopped by coastguards enforcing the legislation.

A group of fishermen met municipality officials on April 9 to ask them to overturn the ban, or allow them to fish on Saturdays. Ghanim Khalfan, an Emirati fishing captain with a 15-man crew, said: "We explained our problem that we can't sit at home for two days. He accepted our request, but we were surprised on Saturday when coastguard personnel stopped us from fishing." "I have about 15 fishermen, all wanting a salary, food and accommodation. I cannot afford all this when they are staying [home] for two days doing nothing."

Abdul al Naqbi, another fisherman, said the ban would cost him dearly. "It is going to be very competitive to work only five days a week. Everyone will want to utilise that chance," he said. Several fishermen said this week that they respected the religious basis for the decision to ban fishing on a Friday, but could not understand why Saturday had been declared out of bounds. Dr al Shweykh said the municipality was focusing on boosting tourism, and Kalba's coastline is an important draw for visitors.

He said fishing - both on-shore and off - was "a disruption to the visitor experience". Dr al Shweykh would not elaborate on this. The municipality sent a memo to the Kalba Fishermen Association last week outlining the new legislation. Mohammed Yousef, a fisherman, said the association - which represents the interests of the industry locally - had failed to protest against the municipality's decision. "This association has no use," he said. "They just look on as we are stopped from fishing ? what good can they do for us?" Seif al Zaabi, the organisation's president, said the association was opposed to the decision and was trying to reach a compromise with the municipality. However, he did not seem optimistic.

"When you are out of the leadership you think everything is easy, but let them tell me what a mere association can do [to change] a municipality decision," he said. ykakande@thenational.ae