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Shark Fishing In Dhofar*

Mirbat jetty, 67 km from Salalah, is hardly the kind of setting where lucrative deals are likely to be made over something as common as fish.Yet, deals involving sizable sums are clinched here on a daily basis, in a manner far removed from the quiet, amiable haggling of the marketplace. GSM-toting agents, displaying the finesse and flair of hardened businessmen, hammer out hefty bargains with fishermen arriving with fresh hauls of fish.In fact, the merchandise in question is no ordinary fish, but the predatory shark, which is being fished in the hundreds all along Dhofar's coastline - primarily for its prized fins.Every morning, fishing dhows stream into Mirbat's picturesque bay, laden with sharks netted during an overnight fishing run. They draw close to Mirbat's modern jetty and disgorge at a steady rate five and six-foot sharks. These are snapped up by waiting agents who supply a lucrative export trade in shark fins, relished in many Far Eastern countries as an exotic consommé (soup dish).

The scene at Mirbat is replicated at scores of jetties along Dhofar's coast, and even further afield around Masirah and Sur. So promising are the pickings that fishermen from Sur and Masirah deploy in Dhofar's warm, tropical waters where sharks are usually bountiful during the October-April period. Shark fins command premium prices in export centres like Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere in the Far East. The fins and tail of a five-foot shark, for instance, fetch as much as RO50-55, offered by agents who act on behalf of a handful of major shark fin exporters based in Sur and Muscat. Suhail Mussallam Ahmed Amosh, a veteran fish merchant of Salalah, says the shark fin business offers hefty pickings for local fishermen.

Shark hunters are offered around RO50 per shark of about five-foot length. In fact, a single overnight fishing excursion would usually net between 12 and 18 large sharks, thus packing in a large profit for the fishermen concerned. And with consumer markets displaying an insatiable appetite for shark fins, local shark hunters are guaranteed a ready market for their catch.Every day, Suhail Mussallam scours the jetties of Raysut, Mirbat and Sadah for dhows bringing in fresh hauls of shark. Deals are swiftly struck and the merchandise is subsequently taken to a processing facility where the valuable fins and tail of each predator are hacked off and stored. The carcasses are then sold to fish processing factories which have them either filleted, dried or just frozen. Because sharks, shorn of their fins and tail, command little market value, their carcasses have hitherto been found rotting at many points along Dhofar's shore, and at fish landing quays as well. To discourage fishermen from hunting sharks purely for their fins, laws are in place requiring such fish to be only sold with fins intact.

According to Suhail Mussallam, a set of dorsal and pectoral fins, in addition to the shark's tail, are collectively priced at RO45 to RO55, depending upon the size of the predator. Fins of smaller sharks fetch anything from RO2 to RO20, he says. The veteran dealer supplies to a major shark fin exporter based in Sur. Unlike other popular types of fish like kingfish, grouper and tuna, which have seen their stocks decline in recent years, the shark harvest continues to be prolific, says Suhail. There are great numbers of them in Dhofar's seas, he claims, although the biggest ones are invariably caught off Sur, Masirah and Al Ashkarah.

In fact, so abundant is the shark population in Dhofar's waters that fishermen from Sur and Masirah converge here to harvest these bounteous seas during the shark-hunting season stretching from October to April. They deploy their fishing craft in the area for two months during the season, before returning to their respective native towns.

Joining this seasonal migration is Mansour Said al Gamboosi, a dhow owner from Sur, who operates out of Mirbat during the season. He estimates that about 200 dhows from Sur alone fish for sharks off the Dhofar coast stretching from Salalah to Mirbat.Al Gamboosi's dhow, fully equipped and provisioned, is operated by a group of fishermen as part of a deal that guarantees the dhow owner half the proceeds of the daily shark catch.

An overnight fishing excursion yields on average 15-20 large sharks, which are sold to waiting dealers at RO30-50 per shark, says Al Gamboosi. On occasions, he adds, dhows are known to have made as high as 50 large catches on a single day this season.At the end of a typical two-month season, each fisherman can earn about RO800 as his share of the takings, which also nets the dhow owner a stake as high as RO 8,000-10,000.On rare occasions, an unfortunate dolphin or baby whale gets ensnared in the fishermen's nets. These are usually let loose if still found alive, or cut into strips as bait for future fishing expeditions.Over 80 different species of shark are known to thrive in, or visit the waters of the Sultanate.

These are found all along the coastal stretch from Musandam in the north to Dhofar in the south. Some 350 species of shark populate the oceans of the world, but are most plentiful in tropical and subtropical waters. As predators and scavengers, sharks play a crucial part in cleaning up the ecosystems of the world's oceans. They are known to feed on infirm fish and also prey on a wide spectrum of marine species, thus having a positive effect on the balance of life in the sea.

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