x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

'Fishing is our way of life and who we are, but it's hard'

The profession is becoming extinct among Emiratis, an elder says.

Juma al Qubaisi says that the young are not interested in fishing. His daughter, Ayesha, works at the Desert Islands Education Centre.
Juma al Qubaisi says that the young are not interested in fishing. His daughter, Ayesha, works at the Desert Islands Education Centre.

DALMA ISLAND // Juma al Qubaisi paced back and forth between two big dhows resting on a concrete slab. At a nearby dock, fishing boats sat bobbing in the water like big wooden ducks. To his right, two Indian men with paint brushes were hunched over big buckets, their foreheads shiny with sweat. The afternoon heat was intense and the men lathered thick globs of white paint onto the bottom of one of the boats. Mr al Qubaisi said he had owned the boats for many years - but now he had decided to restore them and put them up for sale. He owns a small fleet of dhows, some built as long ago as the 1960s. He comes from a long line of fishermen and has worked the sea for at least 45 years - but he may be the last in his family to take up the trade.

It is unlikely that any of his children will follow in his footsteps. "The profession is becoming extinct among Emiratis," Mr al Qubaisi said. "The situation has changed. In the beginning, it was the people of the country who used to work in this industry. Emiratis used to be fishermen and they used to know each other and work together." Government work, Mr al Qubaisi said, was more lucrative for young people. "They don't want this profession of ours that is a hard way of life. But for me and those like me, this is something we are used to, this is our way of life and who we are." These days, most of the fishermen on Dalma come from far flung places such as Kerala on India's south-west coast. Thirty years ago, Mr al Qubaisi said, everyone would have been local. "The fisherman were just Emiratis, there were no Indians. There were other people from the Gulf, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi. We would fish there and they would fish here. All the fishermen were from the Gulf." The island, 42km from Jebel Dhanna, with a population of just under 5,000, has changed dramatically since Mr al Qubaisi was a boy in the 1950s. Today there are roads where once there was only sand. There are now six or seven mosques, two restaurants and a lone hotel perched on a long stretch of desolate beach. Dalma Island is so small that you can drive from one end to the other in less than half an hour. It is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else. Hay growing remains a source of income for some residents, and small farms pepper the deep orange sand. Long lines of hay bales sit on one end of the island, waiting to be shipped to Sir Bani Yas Island. When Mr al Qubaisi was a boy there were no schools on the island. Houses did not have electricity and the trip to the mainland - now made by ferry in a little over an hour - could take a day on a dhow. Life is easier now, but it is more expensive. Another notable change, Mr al Qubaisi said, was that the fish were disappearing. "There used to be a lot more fish. We used to care for the environment more then, now no one does," he said. "The Government should interfere. We have to protect our treasure of fish. Very few fishermen care about these things, most people work incorrectly." @Email:klewis@thenational.ae