x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sellers of red tide fish to be fined

Markets found to be selling fish killed by a red algal bloom that has plagued the coastline in Ras al Khaimah will be prosecuted, the municipality has announced.

Fishermen who moor boats in Ras al Khaimah's creek area have been hit hard by red tide.
Fishermen who moor boats in Ras al Khaimah's creek area have been hit hard by red tide.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Markets found to be selling fish killed by a red algal bloom that has plagued the coastline will be prosecuted, the municipality has announced. The authority warned that inspectors would be dispatched to fish markets, imposing fines on those selling stock caught in waters containing the potentially harmful algae known as 'red tide'. Red tide appeared in the Khor Khwair and Al Galileh districts more than a month ago, slowly spreading across the coastline and reaching al Rams two weeks ago. The announcement on fines follows the banning of net fishing in areas affected by red tide. The Ras al Khaimah Fishing Committee recommends the burial of fish that have died because of red tide.

The ban and the effects of the tide have hit fishermen in the emirate. "We can't use wire nets any more. All of the fish from these nets are dead," said Salem Obaid, who has fished in Ras al Khaimah for more than 30 years. He estimated that fishermen in Ras al Khaimah are losing an average of Dh14,000 to Dh15,000 a month because of the red tide. Abdulla al Kadr, the manager of the Mareedh fish souk, said prices for some fish had doubled in the past month. "Red tide comes every year. Usually it only comes for two or three weeks but now it's been a month. In 27 years, I have never seen it so strong before. But I know this water and I know this will end. Customers are still coming and we were very busy during Eid."

Mohamed Kassen, an Arabic schoolteacher from al Rams who fishes every weekend, said: "We are lucky, so far the fish are still alive and it is only along the coastline and not out at sea. We have 1,000 boats in al Rams alone, and relatives come here to fish from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We are very worried about it spreading." Dr Saif al Ghais, the executive director of the Environment Protection and Development Authority of Ras al Khaimah, warned fishermen about using nets along the northern coastline. "It is important for fishermen to be very cautious," said Dr Ghais. "Fishermen might see that the surface of the water is clean, but dead fish and bacteria may remain at the bottom of the water and kill fish inside the traps. "Red tide is a natural phenomenon and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The only thing you can do is take precautions."

He added that a shamal wind would alleviate conditions by dissolving more oxygen in the water. Samples of the water have been collected for analysis. During the past two months, a red tide outbreak in Fujairah and other sections of the East Coast has caused the deaths of thousands of fish, killed by a lack of dissolved oxygen in the algae-infested waters. An early algal bloom forced the Galileh desalination plant to close in October and left residents without water for weeks. This month, a Kuwaiti environmental expert was brought in to help a government task force investigate the cause of the red tide algae that is blamed for killing coral reefs as well as fish. The algae is also threatening the tourism industry, with scuba divers and swimmers often reluctant to venture out into the foul-smelling water. Algal blooms are a sudden and dramatic increase in the numbers of small marine organisms known as phytoplankton. Blooming decreases sunlight and oxygen levels in the water, which kills other marine life. Some forms of algal bloom are known to be toxic. The Ministry of Environment and Water recently announced it was carrying out extensive studies to discover the cause of the red tide and work out measures to prevent it happening again. The state news agency, WAM, reported that samples taken from the bloom had been sent to the UAE University's college of science for chemical and biological examination. azacharias@thenational.ae