Thursday, 26 February 2009
The Fishermen of Kalba
The wide-winged birds wheel above the encroaching net, above the desperately splashing surface of the broken water. The old Toyota Landcruiser engine guns, the rusty wheels digging into the soft, wet sand and the dark-skinned men in their lungis loop another length of net on the beach.
Another rope plait is laid out on the shining surface before the car moves forward again. The inexorable tightening of the noose contains the afternoon’s catch, patiently harvested by a small boat dragging the net around in a huge mile-long arc out from the beach. The Toyotas pull back up the beach, heaving their complicated lengths into the shoreline. Each drag ends with a twist of the wheel that will bring the cars closer together by a few feet before the next pull back, creating a single, routine and gigantic sweep of the sea, stepping together along the beach to close the net and harvest the life out of the shoreline.
They come, the fish, as their options run out. This way and that, they start to panic, to thresh for space, for air. The net tightens, the birds dive for sprats and the fishermen smoke and laugh together, padding along the wet sandy flats in their bare feet as they gather and loop netting. Their mood lightens as the catch gets closer, the sea erupts into a froth of flashing wet bodies and fins and they laugh, white-toothed grins in brown, wrinkled faces.
As the loop gets smaller, grey and white scaled bodies break the surface, lunging for something, anything but the press of thousands in the gathering encroachment. Among them are the sand sharks, chunky rays that look like kites in the peaceful waters where they swim and are elegant. But the land renders them ugly and ungainly – and a breath of air is an instant, inevitable death for them. Once they take a deep breath of open air their gills are ruined: they can’t be put back in the sea. They can only die.
The fisherman don’t want them: there’s no value for sand shark in the market, although they’re edible. They’re left on the margins of the sea, gasping and reaching for the final, desperate breaths that just confirm their deaths. Shortly, they stop struggling and become still. The fishermen take their catch to market, leaving the shimmering beach dotted with the bodies of the rays they didn’t mean to catch and can’t sell.
Fifteen years ago, we watched as each catch turned up hundreds of sand sharks, the whole wide expanse of flat, dark-sanded beach dotted with upturned white bellies and threshing tails. Now there are only eight or ten of them left as the cars and their nets speed off to Kalba to sell their catch; eight or ten dead bodies lying as a harsh reminder of the law of diminishing returns.
Nobody will care until someone will realise one day that it’s too late to care: when there are no more sand sharks dying on the beaches after they've pulling in the catch at Khor Kalba.
A thought for the weekend...
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