"Oman Ocean-Life"
Lobster < FISHERIES <

The Lobster Delicacy*

There was a time when lobsters abounding in the Omani waters, especially in Dhofar and Masirah, were left untouched by fishermen, in all probability due to lack of awareness of the marine species commercial value. Lobster fishery, however, expanded rapidly in the last two decades from a strictly incidental fishery around Masirah Island in the early 70s with a estimated landing of of less than 10 tonnes to the current profitable comercial fishery occuring from south Sharqiya to the border of Yemen with the annual catch averaging 2,000 tonnes a year.

The establishment of the airforce base in Masirah indirectly contributed to discovering the high worth delicacy, which according to regulations laid down by the goverment are fished during the two-month season of, December-January. The dhofar coast is profilic for the twin treat of abalone and lobster, which, thanks to the conservation efforts being seriously pursued by the government, provide emmense financial gains for fishermen. Unlike abalone, the majority of which finds its way into the export market, a sizeable portion of the lobster catch is consumed within the Sultanate due to its effordability in comparison to abalone. With Christmas, New year and other celebrations heightening the demand for exotic food, the Omani lobsters find no dearth for ready buyers.

According to the research study by the Marine Science and Disheries Center, lobster fishery in Oman is mainly aimed at one species -- panulirus homarus (spiny lobster) although another variety, panulirus versicolour, also accures. The scalloped spiny lobster species is distributed along the south Arabian Sea coast from Dhalkut in the Dhofar region to Ras-al-Hadd and along the Masirah Osland. A few specimens may occur in the Gulf of Oman, but they are not common.

The spiny lobster is a shallow water species although it may occur down to 90 meters depth and has perticular preference for coral and rocky reefs that are washed by sandy surfs. Gregarious, the species tends to shelter in and around rocks and crivices. A nocturnal species, lobster is a scavenger and omnivorous although it has preference for mussels, while juveniles feed mostly on barnacles. During the lobster season, Dhofari fishermen venture out in their fibreglass boats to areas well-known for its presence. Currently, lobster exploitation is restricted to harvests by traditional fishermen, who are required by the law to fish only by traps or pots.

The plastic traps are easy to use and couse no injury to the lobsters. This is very important as female lobsters with spawn which inter the traps are required by the law to be released back into the water to conserve the stock. The traps have openings on two sides which facilitate the easy entry of lobsters into them. On an average, five to eight traps will be let for each fisherman, using dead sardines as bait.

The smell of dead sardines is syrong temtation for lobster which are easily drawn into the traps, fishermen in the wilayat of Sadah said. the advantage with the traps is that small and female female lobsters with spawn can be protected as they are released from the traps without an injury, they added. The plastic traos will also last for many years as they are water friendly, they pointed out. Local traders operate in various parts of Dhofar to make instant purchases of lobstres from fishermen. Each morning, fishermen brings in loads of lobsters and walk away with thick wallets. The average lobster daily catch could vary from 25 to 40 kg fetching RO 75 to 120 for each fishermen. A good season would provide no less than RO 3000 to RO 4000 to each of them. This year, the Dhofari fishermen have received RO 3 a kg on average for the supply of lobsters.

Ahmed Suhail Said Fadhil, a fisherman from Mughsayl, said that the lobster harvest this year was better than the last year. Bukhait Mohammed Ahmed al Mohri, a lobster trader who owns a fisheries company in Salalah, pointed out that his annual purchases averaged about two tonnes. The delicacy was mainly exported to Dubai, he added.

Five traders are operating in Sadah dealing with lobster purchases. When fishermen bring in their catch, hanggling intensifies between the traders to make the purchases. Most of the fishermen, however, have regular supplies to whom they hand over the catch. The lobster catch in Dhofar has averaged above 500 tonnes annually between 1990 and 1995. In 1995 alone the catch was estimated at 481 tonnes, according to Mohammed Ahmed Awadh al Shanfari, Director of Fisheries in Salalah.

Lobster fishery gaining ground

The lobster species in Al Jazer area of Wosta region had become almost extinct due to over fishing and the use of gill nets, Al Shanfari said. The rules are very strict on lobster fishing methods to be employed, but people flout them as the enforcement poses difficulties, he added. Al Shanfari pleaded for stricter measures to deter fishermen from destructive fishing methods and added that random cheaks should be stepped up to nab the violaters of the law.

The scalloped spiny lobster carries eggs externally and its clutch size, depending on the size of the lobster, ranges between 100,000 and 900,000 eggs. Incubation period for the eggs is relatively short, about three to five weeks. The larval period, however, is long and lasts 11 months. The species attains 14 centimeters carapace length and 35 cm total length.

* © Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for errors.