x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fishing ban ends but crews in Umm Al Quwain face tough season

Low pay, heat and smaller catches make job extremely difficult.

While most people in Umm Al Quwain relax during Ramadan, some fishermen are still at work on the emirate's creek. Lee Hoagland/The National
While most people in Umm Al Quwain relax during Ramadan, some fishermen are still at work on the emirate's creek. Lee Hoagland/The National

UMM AL QUWAIN // The ban on fishing in the creek has been lifted but fishermen face a tough few weeks as they bring in catches in soaring temperatures during Ramadan.

The annual four-month ban to help replenish fish stocks ended at the start of last month, giving crews just a few weeks to make the most of the reopened waters before the start of the holy month, when fasting and the heat make working extremely difficult.

Most boats remain in the harbour during Ramadan, but a few still venture out in the early hours each day to supply fish to the markets.

"Most fishermen in the emirate work on small vessels that either go to the sea or in the creek for just a day and return," said Saeed Ahmed, an Emirati fishing boat captain. "There are a few commercial vessels that can go on the sea for more than two days in UAQ.

"In Sharjah they have ... big vessels that go and stay in the sea for about a week or two."

Another fisherman, Sami Ahmed, said that most Emirati fishermen learnt their trade by joining family or friends on boats.

"Once they have attained enough experience and started being captain of their own boats, they would go on to train most of their fleet's workers from Bangladesh or India.

"Some of these workers come to the UAE with good experience from their country's seas and enrich the Emirati fisherman."

Gulassi J, 40, an Indian, has been a fisherman in the UAE for 20 years.

He learnt his skills from an Emirati captain while a young man and now leads a team on his boat, as well as training any recruits.

Despite his experience, he still finds the work tough.

"Our biggest problem as fishermen here is salaries," he said.

"Our bosses give us very little, so you can't afford to eat good food or think of getting married."

He earns Dh600 a month and shares a room in UAQ with four crew mates.

Solomon Y, another fisherman, said the crew went to sea or the creek at 5am when the weather was cooler. "Sometimes we can come back for a break when it's very hot and go back in the afternoon," he said.

"There are times when we come back only at night, it all depends on the captain's mood."

Anthony M, from India, said fishing boats could only go to sea with their Emirati captain on board in line with Coastguard and immigration rules. Only specially licensed Emirati fishermen are allowed to work the creek.

Traditionally, fishing becomes more difficult during the summer as stocks migrate to cooler waters, making them harder to find, resulting in smaller catches and higher prices.

In May, Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla, the Ruler of UAQ, ordered that a new port was to be built at the creek with 72 berths, and that an ice factory would also be built to keep catches fresh.