While I was waiting for the Tour of Qatar 2015 second stage to start, I was approached by few fishermen based in Al Wakrah Port. After greetings and some small talk, the idea of a photo essay for Instagram played with my imagination. I quickly took out my Xperia Z3 Compact, switched to B&W and started taking photos. All the images are as shot with the phone using the Camringo Lite app (which I strongly recommend) and with no edits.
Al Wakrah port is home to a large artisanal fishing fleet – mostly Dhows and small boats. #Qatar has banned trawlers in 1993 after a steep decline in fish and shrimp stocks, which resulted in the fishing industry becoming almost entirely artisanal.
More restrictions on industrial scale fishing, fishing methods and gear meant to protect marine life along Qatar’s coastline have further contributed to the rapid increase in the number of small vessels and the employment of foreign labour force in the fishing industry .
A 1998 decision to cease issuing new fishing licenses for a decade was meant to bring fishing capacity under control. However, this resulted in bigger replacement vessels being introduced that carry more gear and employ a greater number of crew hence a higher quantity of fish being caught.
While the small fiberglass boats use fishing nets ( highly regulated by authorities) , the gear if choice for the bigger boats, Dhows , are the traps and there is no limit on the number of traps they can carry.
The few official numbers I could easily find online put the fleet in Wakrah port at just under 70 boats with almost 700 fishermen, most of them from Bangladesh, India and Iran. These figures are definitely not the latest and most accurate, even with the 1998 decision to stop issuing licenses keeping Qatar’s artisanal fishing fleet fixed at 515 vessels.
Anur said he is ’18-19 years-old ‘. He came from Chittagong, Bangladesh almost one and a half years ago to work as a fisherman. “I couldn’t dream to get a job back home that brings me this salary. Now I can make plans to marry and have a family, but not soon. I will not go home for the next 3-4 years, I want to save the money I make. I am happy I can help my family now as well ” he said. He was keen to tell me he is proud with his job and Bangladeshi are the best fishermen in the world. He also insisted I should quit smoking.
Anandu works as a fisherman on a boat from Wakrah for more than 3 years. ” This is a hard job to do. It takes 6-7 hours to get to our fishing spot and we spend 2-3 days at sea. We get little time to sleep or take breaks. Fishing is like that, when you are on the boat, you have to work hard” he said. He has a family back home in Chittagong, Bangladesh. ” Working here is difficult, but at least I can give my children a better future.”
Topun, 28, has more than 4 years working as a fisherman based in Wakrah port. “So far it is ok. Most of these people working here are from Bangladesh and being around them helps when I miss my family back home. Here, the hardest part of the job is being out at sea and working for 15-20 hours without break. But this is who we are and what we do. My father was a fisherman and I am a fisherman,” he said while curiously looking at my camera. He laughed when I said I will use my phone to take his picture. ” You spend so much money on this camera to use the phone to take photos?!”.
Qatar has managed to keep the fish imports low in comparison with other neigbouring countries mainly due to increased fishing efforts of its fixed fleet. With a growing market demand for fish, there is a continuos increase in expatriate labour force in the fishing industry. The average salary of 800 – 900QAR ( 220$ – 250$) seems atractive to workers from fishing comunities in Bangladesh and other countries. For most, this monthly wage gives hope for a better future for their families back home.