“For many years I have lived in Kuwaiti waters. Life on a boat is not as steady as living on land.” Suresh, Indian fisherman in Kuwait
Fish are abundant in Kuwaiti waters, but account for only 20 percent of the stocks sold in the Kuwaiti market, with the remaining imported from Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Iran, Thailand and Sri Lanka. There are no Kuwaiti fishermen either – most hail from Egypt and India.
Fishing is no easy task. According to some fishermen who spoke to Kuwait Times, they are at sea with their fishing boats for four to five days before they return. The docking areas for fishermen are in Sharq and Fahaheel. Only Egyptians and Indians are allowed in this job, according to Suresh, a captain of a fishing boat stationed in Sharq. “Regardless of the weather, we go out to fish. There are 250 boats of this kind,” he said.
While they have everything at sea – from food supplies to first aid kits – emergencies can happen without warning. According to Suresh, in times of emergency or sickness, there are teams that respond. “If we fall sick at sea, they respond to emergency calls. For the last 13 years of my work with them, I haven’t faced any problems,” he said.
Suresh, 37, has been doing this work since 2003. He likes his job, but said there can be no alternative to life on dry land. “I will retire soon because I want to live on dry land – for many years I have lived in Kuwaiti waters. Life on a boat is not as steady as living on land. If we encounter bad weather, we tend to stay put. We are used to the waves, and if there is no reason to give up, we do not give up that easily. We persevere because we want to feed our families,” he said.
Suresh aims for a big catch once he and his team go out fishing, as they are contracted on a “half and half” system. “We do not get regular wages. Our salary comes from the ‘half and half’ scheme we agreed on accepting our job,” said Mitesh, another Indian fisherman. “So we always want a big catch once we head out to sea. For example, if our catch is worth KD 1,000, half of the amount will go to fish market management, while the other half will be divided among the fishermen and crew,” he said.
Big fishing vessels usually have six to eight crewmembers, including the captain and co-captain. These boats are allowed to fish even outside the waters of Kuwait, as far as Iran and Iraq. “There are territorial water boundaries, but we have fishing agreements, so we can go out of Kuwaiti waters as long as we have the permits with us,” Mitesh said.
Muhammad, an Egyptian supervisor at the docking port of Sharq, said smaller fishing boats also go out to fish regularly. “They are only allowed to fish in Kuwaiti waters, plus they need to come back on the same day. These smaller fishing vessels make more money. They return with a catch worth KD 300-KD 500 daily. If they go out even three or four times a week, they can earn much more,” he said. “They also go out with two crewmembers, so they get more benefits. On the other hand, the numbers of small fishing vessels are limited,” he told Kuwait Times.
Kuwait waters are rich in fish resources and there are certain months when catching some Kuwaiti seafood favorites is banned. For example, catching local zubaidi is banned by the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAAFR) from June 1 to July 15 to allow replenishment of stocks. Besides zubaidi, shrimping is banned from Jan 1 to Aug 31. Zubaidi, hamour, nuwaibi and maed are just some of the variety of fish prized by many in Kuwait.
By Ben Garcia