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Monday, May 12, 2008

Fish, Fish Prices and Fish Stocks!

Qatar is known for its bountiful fish catches - but with an increasing population the Government is acting to preserve fish stocks

A selection of fish at Doha's wholesale fish market
In Qatar's poorer days, fish was what sustained the local population. Fish was so plentiful that people were embarrassed to give guests fish - it was seen as being mean, or a sign of poverty. In fact, fish was so plentiful that it was exported to be used as fertilizer.

If you are a fish lover in Qatar, nothing quite beats buying the fish fresh off the boats on the Corniche. There you can buy the long silver king fish, small sharks or bucket loads of crabs - and of course the ugly but very delicious hamour.

For a more complete choice you should visit the wholesale fish market, where you can buy squid, tuna, octopus and a whole range of other fish I couldn't even name. For two riyals a kilo - the price is set by the authorities - a man will clean the fish for you. Just make sure you visit the fish market in the morning, especially in the hot season, or you may find you the stench overpowering.

However, the price of fish has been increasing over recent years. When I first came here I could still buy a whole tuna for 5 riyals at the wholesale market, which would feed the whole family, but those days are past.

Perhaps the reason for increasing prices is due to the increasing population which Qatar's fish stocks are feeding. Three years ago Qatar's population was estimated at 800,000 - many times the few hundred families that lived here at the turn of the century, and just over half the latest estimate of one and a half million.

Now both fans of sea food and fishermen will be complaining after the government has imposed restrictions on the movements of fishing boats.

Fishing traps dry in the sun with the Doha skyline in the distanceThere already no-go areas in Qatar, but now boats are only allowed to make three trips a month, with each trip lasting no longer than five days.

Fish prices have already increased. According to the Gulf Times on Friday, King fish had increased from QR22/kilo to QR40 a kilo, while the price of Hamour had increased by about 75%.

While fishermen and consumers in these countries may be complaining, those in other countries should be wishing that their countries had taken the same steps years ago. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, commercial fish populations in the North Atlantic of cod, hake, haddock and flounder have fallen by as much as 95%.

I have also seen it personally. Catches of mackerel on trips home have fallen every year, while on a return trip to a town in Spain I was sad to see the once proud fleet of fishing boats reduced to just three solitary ships.

I was surprised to see that the market and the shops were still well stocked with fish - until I was told that they were now all imported. It seems that the answer of those countries who have destroyed their own fish stocks is now to destroy other country's.

Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, has warned that:

Overfishing cannot continue. The depletion of fisheries poses a major threat to the food supply of millions of people.”

fish dishActing strongly to preserve fish stocks now might mean that, unlike much of the rest of the world, the population of Qatar can continue to eat fish for years to come.

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