x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fish market to move inland

A new eco-friendly fish market promises an odour-free shopping experience, but some argue it will mean the destruction of one of Abu Dhabi's highlights.

Marshalled for market: the night's catch laid out in disciplined rows on the quayside at Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi, as dawn breaks.
Marshalled for market: the night's catch laid out in disciplined rows on the quayside at Mina Zayed, Abu Dhabi, as dawn breaks.

Abu Dhabi's fish market, one of the most distinctive sights and smells from the early years of the capital, will be pulled down to make way for a new, mall-like facility several kilometres from the sea. While the current location allows fishermen to unload their catches on the dockside of the Mina Zayed port, within two years fish will be transported in refrigerated lorries to a new building near the Carrefour hypermarket on Airport Road. Plans revealed by developers working with the Municipal Authority last week show an aroma-free and environmentally friendly complex that could include a recycling unit and a rooftop garden. "We want to alleviate the idea of the old souk," said N Nandakumar, communications manager at Emke Group, the developer responsible for the project. "It's going to be trendy, a five-star fish market." In its present location at Mina Zayed, near the Iranian souk and a fleet of dhows, the market is a tourist attraction as well as a source of seafood. It is listed in many guidebooks as one of the highlights of a tour of the city, with its colourful and lively atmosphere. The current edition of Abu Dhabi Explorer says that "a heady smell of salt water, fresh seafood and the holler of wizened looking men makes for an unforgettable experience". On market day, work begins before the sun has fully risen, with dozens of men standing along the edge of the harbour carting bins of hammour, tuna and queenfish into the single-storey facility. On one side of the market, workers sit at counters scaling, gutting and chopping. The rest of the space is given over to fishmongers, their stalls overflowing with shiny, slippery fish for sale. All this will soon be gone, with a high-rise block on the prime waterfront site where the market has stood for 19 years. The developers have yet to say whether the new building will be apartments or a hotel. The morning catch will still be unloaded at the port, but will then be transported by road across the city. The new market's compostible waste will be recycled to produce either fertiliser or animal feed. There may also be a garden - which would use the fertiliser - on the roof. But one feature of fish markets worldwide will be absent from the new venture: the smell. By controlling waste water and recycling and cleaning the air, the developers claim that the pungent odour of fish will not permeate the building. At the current market, according to Mr Nandakumar, "the smell is a deterrent. It makes people not want to go there". No details of the cost of building the new market or redeveloping the old site have been released, but Enke say the budget has been reduced from its original estimated Dh1 billion (US$270 million). "Other companies can build buildings, but they don't have the knowledge to do this," said Bjorn Ostbye, project development manager at Emke. "We have all the in-house experience to do this." Bringing his Scandinavian roots to every aspect of the project, Mr Ostbye explained that the new market would be among the city's most environmentally friendly buildings. "On site we'll separate bio waste, plastic, glass and aluminium," he said. "This will not be your typical wet market." Still, the news was not universally well received. Jimmy Agocoy, 36, who is originally from the Philippines and visits the fish market with his family at least once a month, was bemused by the plans. "Why would they move the fish market?" he asked. "It will be too far, taxis are expensive." Mr Agocoy and his wife agreed that moving a fish market away from the water was also a strange choice. They were unworried by the current market's pungent air. "It's a fish market," he shrugged. Edwin Dumo, 42, also a Filipino, was similarly concerned about the move. "How will they transport the fish so it will still be fresh? This place is best. Here they can catch it live," he said. Ali Mansouri, the manager of the Abu Dhabi Fishermen's Co-operative Society, which runs the current market, was not thrilled about it being torn down. "The fish will not be fresh, there are so many cars in the middle of the city where the new one will be," he said. "Customers like it here near the sea, they like the whole experience, so do I. Fishing is important for people here, not just at the market, but for everyone in Abu Dhabi. "If you ask me, no, I don't prefer the new one. I would stay here." Many of the fishmongers working at Mina Port are likely to be offered jobs at the new facility. "We need people who have already been fishmongers," said Mr Nandakumar. "We will give them work at the new market." Some current staff did welcome the change. Ismael al Hosni, 44, works in the freezer, where he said facilities were lacking. He welcomed the prospect of a modern alternative. "We need more tools, more everything," he said. "This market should be closed." jhume@thenational.ae