Reeling them in across the world's high seas

The Life: Abdullah Alshalabi, co-founder of, talks about running a global fishing charter boat company which has 15 boats based in the UAE.

Abdullah Alshalabi, left, is the co-founder and managing director at, which runs fishing charters across the world. Delores Johnson / The National
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From his office near the coast in Kuwait City, Abdullah Alshalabi often watched the fishermen head out to sea.

Then a financial analyst with A'ayan Leasing and Investment Company, Mr Alshalabi wished he could hire a fishing boat and hit the seas himself, but he could not find an easily accessible online boat charter service. Later, when he moved to Hong Kong to study an MBA, he faced a similar problem.

"It's difficult to hire a boat online. Finally I went to the port and went fishing in a boat with an old woman but didn't catch anything," he laughs.

Finding a gap in the market, Mr Alshalabi, 28, came up with an idea similar to, where instead of booking hotels and rental cars, people can hire fishing boats anywhere in the world online rather than going through a tour company or hotel. So he co-founded, which now lists 100 boats with 80 charter partners in 15 countries including the Bahamas, India, Mozambique and Thailand. With 15 of the boats based in the UAE, they are available in the majority of the seven emirates. Most of the rest are in Oman, Kuwait and Spain.

"At the moment we are focused in fishing charter boats; our minimum requirement is that all boats must have fishing equipment," he says, adding that most boats belong to individuals with the rest owned by companies.

Fishfishme has a core team of four people, cofounder Jose Gil Zafra, two computer programmers based in Malaga, Spain, and Mr Alshalabi, who until last month was based in Kuwait. He moved to Dubai to expand the company and seek investments.

In the first round of fund-raising in October, the team secured US$50,000. But to expand and hire more staff they plan to raise a further $200,000 in the next two months. The summer is certainly a good time to upgrade the business ready for the busier cooler months.

Locally, the recreational fishing industry experiences a surge in bookings between September and April.

"On season, we have guys going out from 6am until 10pm," says Asim Daud, operations manager at the three-year-old Volume Yachts in Dubai. "People are crazy about fishing here, though it is mostly GCC nationals that we have."

Volume Yachts, which has three boats, receives clients through tourism companies, hotels and e-marketing with about 5,000 clients during the high season.

It's something for Mr Alshalabi's fledgling venture to aim for.

The company currently receives two to three bookings every day globally, with five a day during the high season. While the company's average rental rates globally are between Dh1,800 and Dh2,200 for 10 people for up to eight hours, the UAE average drops to Dh1,600 to Dh2,500 because of lower fuel costs. Of that the company takes a commission of 10 to 20 per cent.

But with fishing a popular pastime for both tourists and residents, revenue can take priority over conservation.

Mr Alshalabi says it is up to the boat captain and his clients to ensure endangered species are returned to the sea.

"In the UAE the general rule is that what you catch you can keep," Mr Alshalabi says. "But when there is excessive fishing on any one trip, the captain asks the clients to bring the fish back to the water."

In Fujairah, for instance, if clients catch sailfish - considered one of the big game fish - fishermen are allowed to take pictures of their catch before it is released to its natural habitat.

As well as coming to terms with paying tax on income for the first time in his life, Mr Alshalabi says the biggest challenge for his business is the weather.

"With winds of over 25 kilometres per hour, we cancel the booking," he says, adding that the team monitor weather 24 hours a day from Spain and Dubai, and call boat captains in case of changes.

Every month, about 15 to 20 per cent of all bookings are delayed because of bad weather.

Keeping an eye on the weather and a new business means the entrepreneur rarely enjoys a holiday himself.

"But if you do what you like, you never need to take a vacation," Mr Alshalabi says.