Fish stocks at Mina Fish Market in Abu Dhabi are on the wane as the summer heat takes its toll on catches. Christopher Pike / The National
Fish stocks at Mina Fish Market in Abu Dhabi are on the wane as the summer heat takes its toll on catches. Christopher Pike / The National

It's sink or swim for the UAE's fish markets this summer

Abu Waleed looks at the four small fish on the weighing scales and sighs. “No others?”

His dinner choices are limited at this time of year. Fish prices have increased 50 to 75 per cent this month and the most delicious and popular species are scarce. His fishmonger wants Dh10 for 520 grams of palm-sized jash but when Abu Waleed sees that two of them are missing pieces, he puts them back.

“Usually hamour is on almost every stand,” says the 60-year-old, an Abu Dhabi fish market regular from Palestine who declined to give his last name.

Inflated prices and limited selection are typical in summer and fishmongers caution that fresh, local fish in summer will become increasingly rare as fish populations decline.

“The number of fish has dropped and dropped,” said Mostafa Hebsa, 48, a fishmonger from Kerala, India.

Nets are not heavy now like they were when he started work at the market in the late 1990s. Fish stocks declined by 80 per cent from 1978 to 2011, according to the Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF).

In winter, there is still enough fish to feed everyone but in summer, the decline in fish becomes more noticeable, said Mr Hebsa. “There are no fish in Abu Dhabi. Well, just a few. It’s too hot and it will be like this for another three months. They go far, far away. When the cold comes, they return.”

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Fishermen and fishmongers have already felt the strain. Small catches mean there is little financial incentive to make long trips to cool waters. Only about a quarter of Abu Dhabi fishmongers offer hamour. Kingfish and barracuda are in short supply. Many of the fish on offer are much smaller than usual, like the 800-gram tuna being sold at one of the market stands.

Hamour is currently priced at Dh60 a kilo, double its winter price. Shari was priced at Dh35 per kilo, a 75 per cent price increase. Varieties of smaller fish normally offered for Dh15 are selling for Dh25.

Fishmongers have compensated with imports from the Northern Emirates and, increasingly, from abroad, though the high cost of refrigerated transport is a barrier. Fish stocks on the east coast have been heavily depleted, declining by two thirds between 2002 and 2011, according to the Ministry of Environment and Water.

“Before we were thousands and now we are millions in this country,” said Abdulrahman Abdullah, 65, a fish market customer from Abu Dhabi. “The population is higher and people need to eat.”

There have been a number of initiatives to reverse the depletion of fish stocks, including limiting fishing licences, seasonal bans and modified gargour fishing traps.

Habitat preservation could play a vital role in restoring the fish market’s local catch. In 2015, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi announced plans to increase protected marine areas in the emirate to 14 per cent by 2019 to enhance biodiversity and revive fish stocks.

Many of the current protected marine areas in Abu Dhabi are near the shore and vulnerable to human activities, like dredging. An estimated three quarters of coral reefs in the Gulf have been lost and scientists have warned that coral reefs - vital to fish population - could disappear entirely within our lifetime. Mangroves and seagrass beds are also at risk.

As habitats disappear, the Abu Dhabi staple of fresh, local fish available year-round could become a thing of the past.

Customers are reluctant to change their habits. Summer shoppers at the Abu Dhabi fish market say that economics, not environment, dictates what they will, and won’t, put on their dinner plate.

“As an educated man, yes, I would change what I eat but if my family asks me to buy something then I’ll do my best for them,” said Abu Waleed.

An estimated 60 per cent of all catch was from overfished species such as hamour and kingfish, according to a 2011 EWS-WWF report. Despite awareness campaigns about its dwindling numbers, hamour remains a restaurant favourite.

“The number of fish are decreasing and it’s not like before,” said Nasser Rashed Al Hulaify Al Zaabi, deputy general manager of Abu Dhabi fishermen Co-operative Society. “Twenty years ago there were many fish. The new generation has an understanding of this but the most important thing is the law. If the fish is there, people will buy it.”

In Abu Dhabi’s kitchens, the fish machboos keeps coming.

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Fuel economy, combined: 13.5L / 100km

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Director: Anu Menon

Rating: Three out of five stars


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By 2030, Abu Dhabi aims to achieve:

• 39.3 million visitors, nearly 64% up from 2023

• Dh90 billion contribution to GDP, about 84% more than Dh49 billion in 2023

• 178,000 new jobs, bringing the total to about 366,000

• 52,000 hotel rooms, up 53% from 34,000 in 2023

• 7.2 million international visitors, almost 90% higher compared to 2023's 3.8 million

• 3.9 international overnight hotel stays, 22% more from 3.2 nights in 2023

Getting there and where to stay

Etihad Airways operates seasonal flights from Abu Dhabi to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport. Services depart the UAE on Wednesdays and Sundays with outbound flights stopping briefly in Rome, return flights are non-stop. Fares start from Dh3,315, flights operate until September 18, 2022. 

The Radisson Blu Hotel Nice offers a western location right on Promenade des Anglais with rooms overlooking the Bay of Angels. Stays are priced from €101 ($114), including taxes.

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Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
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Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
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Dubai works towards better air quality by 2021

Dubai is on a mission to record good air quality for 90 per cent of the year – up from 86 per cent annually today – by 2021.

The municipality plans to have seven mobile air-monitoring stations by 2020 to capture more accurate data in hourly and daily trends of pollution.

These will be on the Palm Jumeirah, Al Qusais, Muhaisnah, Rashidiyah, Al Wasl, Al Quoz and Dubai Investment Park.

“It will allow real-time responding for emergency cases,” said Khaldoon Al Daraji, first environment safety officer at the municipality.

“We’re in a good position except for the cases that are out of our hands, such as sandstorms.

“Sandstorms are our main concern because the UAE is just a receiver.

“The hotspots are Iran, Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq, but we’re working hard with the region to reduce the cycle of sandstorm generation.”

Mr Al Daraji said monitoring as it stood covered 47 per cent of Dubai.

There are 12 fixed stations in the emirate, but Dubai also receives information from monitors belonging to other entities.

“There are 25 stations in total,” Mr Al Daraji said.

“We added new technology and equipment used for the first time for the detection of heavy metals.

“A hundred parameters can be detected but we want to expand it to make sure that the data captured can allow a baseline study in some areas to ensure they are well positioned.”

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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Indoor cricket World Cup:
Insportz, Dubai, September 16-23

UAE fixtures:

Saturday, September 16 – 1.45pm, v New Zealand
Sunday, September 17 – 10.30am, v Australia; 3.45pm, v South Africa
Monday, September 18 – 2pm, v England; 7.15pm, v India
Tuesday, September 19 – 12.15pm, v Singapore; 5.30pm, v Sri Lanka
Thursday, September 21 – 2pm v Malaysia
Friday, September 22 – 3.30pm, semi-final
Saturday, September 23 – 3pm, grand final

Saturday, September 16 – 5.15pm, v Australia
Sunday, September 17 – 2pm, v South Africa; 7.15pm, v New Zealand
Monday, September 18 – 5.30pm, v England
Tuesday, September 19 – 10.30am, v New Zealand; 3.45pm, v South Africa
Thursday, September 21 – 12.15pm, v Australia
Friday, September 22 – 1.30pm, semi-final
Saturday, September 23 – 1pm, grand final

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
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Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
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Saudi Arabia

Joy: Delivers car services with affordable prices

Karaz: Helps diabetics with gamification, IoT and real-time data

Medicarri: Medical marketplace that connects clinics with suppliers

Mod5r: Makes automated and recurring investments to grow wealth

Stuck: Live, on-demand language support to boost writing

Walzay: Helps in recruitment while reducing hiring time


Eighty6: Marketplace for restaurant and supplier procurements

FarmUnboxed: Helps digitise international food supply chain

NutriCal: Helps F&B businesses and governments with nutritional analysis

Wellxai: Provides insurance that enables and rewards user habits


Amwal: A Shariah-compliant crowd-lending platform

Deben: Helps CFOs manage cash efficiently

Egab: Connects media outlets to journalists in hard-to-reach areas for exclusives

Neqabty: Digitises financial and medical services of labour unions


Monak: Provides financial inclusion and life services to migrants

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Rating: ★★★★


Company name: OneOrder
Started: March 2022
Founders: Tamer Amer and Karim Maurice
Based: Cairo
Number of staff: 82
Investment stage: Series A

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