Fishermen banned from working in protected area

Fishermen have questioned a decision to protect waters not far from the coast of Khor Kalba.

Protected mangroves in the Kalba nature reserve. Antonie Robertson / The National
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KALBA // Fishermen are questioning a decision to protect areas off the coast of Khor Kalba.

Boat captains who live in the area and fish the waters off the east coast, said the protected zone, set up in 2012, interfered with their livelihoods.

Restricted access to mangroves has halted crab fishing, but the most contentious issue for the fishermen is their exclusion from waters within a nautical mile of the coast.

“If these areas are shut off from our trade, and the ocean isn’t open for us, then of course it’s difficult. How can you block off an open area of water?” said fisherman Buhamdan.

“Of course we don’t catch as much. We used to have better yields,” said the Emirati who fishes with a crew of seven. “I’ll tell you, our ocean is open. Our fish are seasonal. There’s time when the fish will go to shallow water and other seasons where they goes out to sea. We’re missing out on an entire season of fishing. Imagine you have an opportunity to do something right in front of you and all you can do is watch.”

A 29-year-old Emirati said the rules were harder on older fishermen.

“Of course this has affected us, but we’re young we can change,” he said. “The people whose lives it has changed completely are the older men, they don’t and they can’t change now.”

Many older colleagues, he said, continued to use stationary nets in the shallows despite the ban.

“Yesterday we had an old fisherman, over 60 years old, the coastguard towed his boat in, saying ‘You know you’re not allowed to fish within the protected zone’. He told them, ‘Before the law, before you even existed, we’ve been going along fishing and knowing how to live. You come today and tell me to go, I can’t do it’.”

K M, in his 30s, said that a short distance away in Oman it was possible to fish without restrictions. “That’s Oman, grab your stuff, get in a boat and go. No one will tell you anything and they can fish as they please. So we want a better solution,” he said.

The Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, which manages the protected area, were unavailable for comment.