The Fish Roundabout near the Fujairah marina stands as testimony to the way that fishing has been central to the identity of this area and vital to the livelihood of its inhabitants. The crescent moon of every mosque not only determines the Islamic calendar with its religious seasons but the phases of the moon are still a crucial indicator for the setting and drawing of fishing nets.
Archaeological studies in the UAE have unearthed fishing hooks made out of shell and copper, various types of weights for nets and assortments of fish bones which reveal that this industry is thousands of years old.
There are some recent innovations. Nets are no longer pulled in by hand but by a 4WD at either end. Because of this extra horse power the time it takes for pulling the nets in are greatly reduced and the nets can be deeper and longer than in earlier days. Even so the whole operation still takes about six hours. These nets (dhagwa in Arabic) frequently extend for two kilometers and the ropes at either end, which are hooked onto the jeeps on the beach, can lengthen the entire net to between three to five kilometers. This is a communal activity involving teams of mainly Bangladeshis and Indians, some boats, jeeps, nets and usually an Emirati owner.
Further aspects that mark the contemporary fishing industry are the regulations and enforcement by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, involving the control of fishing certain species during reproductive seasons, the rules about the size of fish that can be taken, the licensing of the estimated 15,000 fishermen and 5,000 fishing boats in the country and the bans on international trawlers operating in UAE waters. While many other countries are struggling with declining reserves of fishing stock, fish farms in the UAE spawn and nurture more than a half a million fish that are released into the waters annually.
What hasn’t changed in the thousands of years that fishing nets have been set in Fujairah waters are the hours of hard work, by day and by night and through all the seasons and climatic conditions. Every time the nets are pulled in there is still an air of expectation, the rollercoaster of emotions depending on the size of the catch and the intense curiosity of the crowd that forms on the beach to watch over the proceedings.
Fishing takes place in other ways along the coast—in boats, by people casting expensive rods from the beach and the simple Dh6 spool of nylon that can be bought from any Fujairah fishing shop.
Fishing—either hands on or as an observer—is still some of the best entertainment one can have in Fujairah.
Images: The Fish Roundabout and a Fujairah fishing collage.