Kuwait's once-thriving fish market stands deserted, while hundreds of fishing boats wallow in port as fishermen endure a month-long crisis which has seen millions of dead fish wash up on the emirate's shores.
Fish dishes, one of the staples of a Kuwaiti household, have been replaced on the table by meat and poultry, whose sales and prices have soared since the death of thousands of tons of fish in Kuwaiti waters since early August.
"We're really suffering," Egyptian fisherman Abdul Fatah Dayim told AFP. "I have a wife and five children to feed in Egypt. When can we go back to the sea?" Some 120 dhows and 700 small fishing boats are anchored up by the fish market, their owners waiting for the official go-ahead to resume work and recoup some of their losses.
But the signal to set sail for open waters once again does not look imminent. US marine experts, who recently left Kuwait after completing the first stage of their investigations, said it was impossible to tell when the shores would cease being littered by waves of dead fish.
The most probable cause of the deaths was an outbreak of bacterial infection sparked by a combination of climatic and urban development-related factors, they said, adding that confirmed reports of red tide algae complicated the problem.
Kuwait's government has banned the sale of all fresh fish, both local and from abroad, until experts can determine the exact cause of death and tests show fish to be safe for consumption.
According to members of the Kuwaiti Fishermens' Union, each dhow would normally net around $650 worth of fish a day while a small fishing boat would bring in $160. "There's no sign of an end to this crisis. It's a disaster," cried Khalid Duaij, a Kuwaiti dhow-owner.
"Millions of dinars have been lost since all this started. Plus we have to pay the Egyptian and Indian fishermen, who need to live." He said that at least 2,500 tons of dead fish had been collected by the union and volunteers within the last month. "I also have a shop for fishing equipment, but no customers. It's a chain effect," Duaij said.
The fishermen meanwhile sleep on their boats and spend mornings at sea collecting dead fish, for which the government pays around seven dollars per basket. It is a meager living, one they say simply cannot support their large families.
Around 1,000 fishermen with the financial means to do so have already left the country, leaving around 4,000 mainly Egyptian and Indian fishermen in Kuwait. "We have no money so we have to stay," said Talat Muhammad, who has seven children in Egypt. "We're just waiting until we're told what to do next. But we don't know how much more we can take. Many of us had just returned from our vacation to find ourselves in this terrible situation."
Fruit and vegetable vendors at the fish market said they have also been hit hard in a knock-on effect. "Everyone who sells fruit and vegetables is also suffering," said Iranian stallholder Mihrab Ghulam. "I'm losing $80 each day. We have no money. It's unbearable. When will this crisis end?" — (AFP, Kuwait City)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )