x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE boat captains stop work in protest against new ministry decrees

They say orders from the Ministry of Environment and Water are unrealistic and ignore the difficulties fishermen face.

More than 200 fishing boat captains have stopped working at the ports of Fujairah and Al Bidyah after a decree was issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water halting the issue of new licences for vice captains.

Licences are now only available in three exceptional conditions: if the applicant is the captain’s heir, if the captain is over 60; or if the captain is so ill he cannot command his own boat.

Fujairah fishermen condemned the decree, which they said was unrealistic and disregards the difficulties they face.

They also criticised the ministry’s decree concerning the regulation, manufacture, import and use of fish traps, locally known as garagir, and a decree that specifies the requirements of fishing nets.

Mahmoud Abdulah Al Sharaa, the head of Fujairah Fishermen’s Association, said the number of vice captains registered with the association is 250, and that 200 had stopped working after the ministry refused to renew their licences.

He said the decree discouraged Emiratis from becoming fishermen, placing obstacles in the path of young people. He added that the fishing industry would be paralysed by the decision.

Fishermen in Sharjah have called on authorities to regulate the issuing of vice-captain’s licences, noting that there are a few loopholes that allow some people to hold two licences at once, for captain and vice captain. This makes for unfair competition and exhausts fish stocks, they said.

The ministry said it was keen to regulate fishing and ensure all fishermen were treated equally, noting that it had developed an electronic system that would ensure no boat owner received more than one vice-captain’s licence.

The agency also pointed out that vice-captain’s licences were issued for some Emirati categories, such as the sick, the boat owners’ heirs and the elderly. This was to sustain the livelihoods of people who owned boats but were incapable of personally operating them.

Specialised committees have been set up to regulate fishing in the UAE. They will be given the task of reviewing vice-captain applications for approval.

The main goal of fishing laws was to preserve fish stocks and protect the marine environment, the ministry said.