Dhofaris cash in on abalone season

SADAH: The abalone fishing season is an eagerly awaited time of the year for the people of Dhofar Governorate. Dhofaris, especially those living in the wilayats of Sadah and Mirbat, cash in on it. Abalone is a mono-shelled mollusk, which lives in coastal areas with rocky beaches where algae and seaweeds are abundant. It is one of the marine species of high economic value in global markets. It is known in Arabic as “ear-shell” and globally as abalone. It is often glued to the lower surfaces of the rocks where it lives inside a rough-surface elliptical shell, with a row of holes at its sides that helps it to breathe. It is a nocturnal creature — active in the dark and less active during the day.

Owing to the noticeable decrease in the abalone reserve in its locations on the beaches extending from Mirbat to the Sharbathat area, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has prohibited abalone fishing in some years and allowed it in some other years. It decided to allow abalone fishing this year from December 11 to 20. Musllam bin Salim Raafait, Director of the Fish Affairs Department at the Directorate-General of Fisheries in the Governorate of Dhofar, said, “The ministry is making great efforts to educate fishermen in general and divers in particular, about the importance of abalone, the necessity of preserving it and the bad consequences of erroneous fishing practices of divers, society and the state in general.”

The authorities have completed its preparations for the current season after the two-year ban to maintain the stock of abalone for a period of two years. All the application forms for licensing for divers and traders, as well as the records of abalone production have been prepared for distribution to traders. No new licences have been issued. The number of licences for divers reached approximately 2,503 and 94 licences for traders. On the productivity of previous seasons, the Director of the Fish Affairs Department at the Directorate-General of Fisheries in the Governorate of Dhofar said, “The total production in the records of abalone traders in 2016 (12 days only) reached 54,819 tonnes.”

Abalone fishermen get ready in the early morning hours throughout the season with their simple tools, which are a knife-like tool, eye glasses and a net that is worn around the waist to collect the catch. In the evening, they return to land and work to extract the meat of abalone from its shell by means of a sharp tool known locally as “Al jazra” (the carrot) and then go to the traders’ sites to sell their daily catch of abalone according to the agreed price, usually ranging between RO 30-50 per kg, which is unfixed price that changes at the beginning of each season. The longer the drying period, the higher the quality of abalone. Then it is canned and sold to foreign markets, especially for East Asian countries, the most important of which is Hong Kong, which is a major market for the abalone of Oman due to its quality and scarcity.

It may be noted that abalone is one of the marine species with a high nutritional value as it contains a high percentage of protein. It is also a rare marine wealth abundant in Omani waters. There are about 120 types of abalone in the seas of the world. It is mostly found, besides the Sultanate, in Japan, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, the United States and South Africa. — ONA