Diving into the past with UAE fishermen: How these Emiratis make a living from the sea and feed their families

KT special report: For many UAE nationals, fishing is a part of their identity, something they inherited from their past and will pass on to their future


Ruqayya Al Qaydi

Published: Tue 16 May 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Jun 2023, 8:20 AM

The timeless art of fishing remains a beloved tradition that connects Emiratis to their heritage and the bountiful sea that surrounds them. For centuries, it has been a vital part of Emirati culture. It was once the backbone of the economy, providing a primary source of income for generations of fathers and forefathers.

But for many Emirati men today, fishing is more than just a way to make a living — it's a part of their identity, a cherished passion that they will proudly pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Even during the pandemic, fishing provided a sense of solace: “We would sail far away from what was happening in the world." says Abdullah Al Salami, president of the Dibba Al Hosn Fishermen Association.

Despite the challenges that come with the profession, Emirati fishermen remain committed to their craft. "Fishing is not an easy job," says Abdullah Al Salami, who learned fishing at the age of 13 from his family members and has been practising the trade ever since. " Previously, we had to work hard to earn a living. We would go out at 3am and must return by 9am during the selling time," he added.

For many Emirati fishermen, fishing is not just a profession but a way of life. Abdullah Al Salami says that for him, fish is a staple food, and he eats it every day, preferably fresh from the catch of the day. He is keen on going fishing daily with men from his family or friends, as he mentions that fishing is an integral part of his daily routine.

Jasim Al Zaabi, a fisherman from "Khor Kalba" which includes the Qurm Nature Reserve, started fishing at the age of seven by helping out his father. As a child he would spend long hours with his friends playing and hunting crabs in the natural lagoon full of mangroves. Eventually, they began to sell their catch to help their family. “My first and last goal was to help my father and not let him travel. So, I started fishing young, I would go day and night and contribute even with little, to help with the household income."

Risky life

Al Zaabi also understands the risks that come with being a fisherman. Winds and rain can cause significant damage, and it's a constant concern for those who work in the water.

On a winter morning in Kalba, Al Zaabi took a risk and set out to the sea in his boat despite the signs of an impending storm. As he was out at sea, he noticed a thick band of clouds moving in from the direction of the nearby mountains. Before he knew it, a heavy rainstorm hit with ferocious winds, making it nearly impossible for him to steer his boat back to shore.

In a moment of panic, Al Zaabi made a bold decision. He threw his anchor overboard and waited on his boat, hoping and praying that the storm would pass quickly. As the rain and wind continued to batter his boat, he feared for his life but refused to give up hope.

Thankfully, the storm began to subside, and Al Zaabi was able to safely navigate his boat back to shore. Despite the fear he experienced out at sea, he was grateful to have survived and to have another chance with life.

While modern technology has made fishing easier and more efficient, many Emirati fishermen continue to rely on traditional methods and techniques. "We use nets and lines, just like our ancestors did," says Abdullah Al Salami. "In my opinion, as an expert in fishing and an old-timer in this field, traditional methods are the best for me, I like to see things with my own eyes.".

Traditional fishing techniques

File photo
File photo

There are many ancient techniques and tools that cannot be enumerated but Al Salami mentioned some, and one of the most famous is "Qarqoor". It is a half-sphere-shaped container that ancestors used to make from palm fronds and some types of wood. Its manufacturing process later shifted to imported wires from India. Its height varies depending on its use, but it can be between 5 to 6 feet. It is used in deep waters, and the idea behind it is that it is a trap that fish enter through a circular opening on one side of the Qarqoor. The opening is conical and narrows at the end to prevent fish from escaping.

There is also "Al Yarouf", which is a net used to catch small fish such as biyah. It is used near the shore and can be between 20 and 70 metres long. The depth of the big net called Al Shibak ranges from two to two-and-a-half metres and it is placed through the ebb and flow of tides. Its length is 36 cubits and it is thrown after sunset. It is pulled three times during the night

Ali Al Raisi during a diving class. — Supplied photo
Ali Al Raisi during a diving class. — Supplied photo

Some fishermen have adopted modern equipment and tools, like Ali Al Raisi from Khor Fakkan who also works as a physical education teacher. For him, fishing a hobby and he uses it as a way to relax. "I work as a physical education teacher, but alongside teaching, I train for diving," he said.

Emirati fishermen remain optimistic about the future. " “Fishing is a part of who we are, and we will continue to pass on our love and passion for this craft to future generations," he said.


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