x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Umm al Qaiwain fish market customers get sniffy about leftovers

Buyers claim fishermen are sending their catches directly to neighbouring emirates and bringing back to Umm al Qaiwain only what they cannot sell elsewhere.

UMM AL QAIWAIN // It is 7pm and business is brisk in the old fish market popularly known as "souk al samak". "It's always like this in the evening," said Usama Ahmed, a fish vendor. "Many people like fish, and here our business is good." But if the stallholders are happy, customers seem less enthusiastic. Many are complaining that most of the "fresh" fish at the market are in fact stale.

They claim that fishermen are sending their catches directly to neighbouring emirates and bringing back to Umm al Qaiwain only what they cannot sell elsewhere. Saeed Ahmed al Zarouni, a resident of UAQ, said he had seen fishermen bringing in fish from Dubai to the market. "I wonder how we start eating leftovers from Dubai when we have one of the biggest fishing areas in the country," he said. Mr al Zarouni said that in the afternoons vehicles could be seen heading to Sharjah or Dubai with the morning's catch. Then, he said, late that night or the following morning, they would return with the unsold leftovers.

Baseel Mohammed Khan a customer at the UAQ fish market, said he knew from experience how to tell if a fish was fresh. "Most importantly, I would check for the fish odour," he said. "It should be fresh and mild. A fish just taken from the water has practically no fish odour. "Eyes are bright, clear, transparent, full, and often protruding. As the fish begins to spoil, the eyes look cloudy and sunken."

Another customer said he could determine freshness by examining the gills and skin. "For the fresh fish the gills must be red and free from slime," he said. "The fish skin should be shiny and with colour that has not faded." Mohammed Majid said he threw away some fish last week because of the bad smell. Majid said he had no problem with the idea of taking UAQ fish to Dubai, because he believed fishermen could sell their catch wherever they wanted in a free economy. But he faulted the fishermen for trying to market stale, leftover fish, as fresh.

"We are everyday reading about food poisoning," he said. "If any one wants to know how it happens, just come and see the fish in Umm al Qaiwain." Ghanem Saeed Ali, head of the public health section at Umm al Qaiwain Municipality, said they had not had any food poisoning cases this year. He promised to look into the fish buyers' allegations and investigate the fish on the market. The price of fish has almost doubled this summer. A kilogram of hammour, which was sold at Dh30, now costs Dh50; 1kg of biyah has risen from Dh 20 to Dh35 and sherry from Dh15 to Dh25.

Abdullah Saif, a member of the fishermen's association in Umm al Qaiwain, said it was a matter of supply and demand. "All along we have been doing this," he said, explaining that fish are naturally scarce in the summer, when the waters become shallow and fish migrate to deeper areas of the sea. In addition, this year there had been the problem of "red tide" or algal bloom. "That killed large quantities of fish, young and old. Though red tide is gone young fish still need time to grow."

One fisherman in Umm al Qaiwain, Abdul Wahab Jawad, said that before the red tide and the summer season, a fisherman using 50 nets would catch at least 100kg of fish daily. Now, he said, the same number of nets were yielding only 20kg to 30kg. "There are so many young fish in the sea, but fishing immature fish is not acceptable in this country," he added. ykakande@thenational.ae