x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Omani fishermen being pushed inland

Luxury beach resorts, a coastal motorway and even a sports village are cutting off access to the sea for traditional fishing communities.

MUSCAT // Fishing communities in Oman are calling for the government to restrict the construction of properties and infrastructure along the coast, saying the new developments are destroying their livelihood. There are about 25 foreign-owned beach properties either under construction or proposed to be built in Oman. The government is also building infrastructure such as roads close to the beaches and relocating fishing communities miles from the sea. Khamis al Darbooni, a 40-year-old fisherman in Muscat, said his family has fished for generations but that their trade is now being threatened. "This beach is getting smaller, crowded and messy, too, because of the new developments. We used to walk just a few hundred metres from our houses to the boats and cast off. Because of the developments, we need to walk further and we can't invest in cars to drive to the beaches. It won't be economical anymore," Mr Darbooni said. According to official statistics, fishing provides an income for 25 per cent of Oman's 1.8 million people. The country's 1,700km coastline is the longest in the Gulf, and coastal areas are sparsely populated. But most of the fishermen are located in cities and towns like Muscat, Salalah in the south, the eastern towns of Sharqiyah and in the Batinah region. The fishermen are forced to move their boats off the beach and find temporary storage for their equipment. "The new developments leave no room for our boats and huts. Moreover, they create private beaches, taking away a large chunk of the sea where we conduct our trade, while leaving their mess on the side of the beach we use," said Sami al Wafi, 36, a fishermen near the Yiti resort just outside Muscat. Mr al Wafi pointed to concrete and steel debris left behind by contractors on the beach that has not been removed. There were also nails and broken planks lying in heaps on the sand. Rusting fences erected on the beach are marked with "Private Property" signs, limiting access to beaches for the fishermen. "They put long fences on areas which we use to repair our nets, engines and other equipment. They have also forbidden us from drying the fish on the beach, saying that the smell is bad business for the property buyers," said Salim Nasser, 39, who lives near The Wave Muscat, Oman's most expensive property development project, located in the Omani capital. Many fishermen supply dried fish as chicken feed to poultry farms, which Mr Nasser said makes up half of his income.

The Wave Muscat covers more than a million square metres of beach area, and stretches across seven kilometres. Some beach properties there and in Salalah being built by the Murya construction group, cost up to four million rials (Dh38m) each. "How can they profit from the lands that our ancestors have been traditionally earning a living from? Where would small fishermen like us make a living if they restrict our trade?" Mr Nasser asked. Just a few kilometres from the Wave, Murya is planning another large development while the government is building a ferry station nearby, further restricting the same stretch of beach to both local residents and fishermen.

Oman is home to next year's Asian Beach Games and the "Sport Village" to hold the international event is being built at Musanah, in the Batinah region. Fishermen in the town said the construction has already disrupted their lives. "When you take away a big area for some kind of playground, then you also hurt the livelihood of people who have been there for years," Amour Siyabi, a Musanah fisherman, living near the construction of the Asian Beach Games site, said. The project of a 250km coastal road at Batinah, dubbed "the superhighway", will displace and relocate about 2,000 homes to make way for the development's first phase. On completion, 10,000 homes will be relocated to other parts of the country, according to government officials.

Half of the residents affected by the road construction are fishermen who will be moved away from the beach, according to local residents. The government says the motorway project will encourage investment in Batinah, which will in turn increase its residents' standard of living.

"The coastal road project will not only support the socio-economic development of the Batinah region on a major scale, but equally, it will enhance living standards of coastal communities. New modern residential zones, complete with social amenities, will be built to house people displaced by the road," Salim al Afani, director general of physical planning at the Supreme Committee for Town Planning, told the media.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae