The coast is abuzz with fishermen and seagulls as Al Ouma or sardines season begins in the Sultanate of Oman. One can see huge flocks of seagulls swarming over fishing boats brimming with the catch. They land on the fishing boats or the loading vehicles to snack on sardines or other fish. It is a beautiful sight that adds an aesthetic touch to the magnificent beaches.
Sardines or Al Ouma, occupy the top spot in fish exports of the Sultanate. There are 21 species of them in the Sultanate of Oman.
Sardines are located in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean, from the Horn of Africa and along the coast of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, and even spread as far east as the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka.
Sardines migrate within Oman’s coastal waters. Sardines appear on a seasonal basis, where they move in large schools from October to February. Most sardines are concentrated in the Governorates of Al Wusta, Dhofar, South and North Al Batinah, as well as South and North Al Sharqiyah.
Sardines migrate frequently, which provides them with protection from predatory organisms. They belong to the Clupeidae family. It is also called ‘Indian oil sardine’.
These fish occupy the bottom of the food pyramid. Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait; for consumption; for drying, salting, or smoking; and for the production of fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, but fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
The migration of sardines attracts other fish and other living creatures. Fishermen say that tuna, dolphins and whales follow the migration path of sardines. Seagulls and sea turtles feed on sardines.
Al Ouma topped the list of artisanal fish catch in 2020 with 430,130 tonnes, which is equivalent to 54.2 percent of the total artisanal fishing production, followed by Yellowfin Tuna with 68,578 tons or 8.6 per cent of the total production.
Blackish oil is extracted from sardines. It is used in many applications, including coating of boats and ships due to its ability to prevent water from leaking into the interior of the ships. In the past, sardine oil was in great demand by makers of traditional ships.