Newsletter January 1999 No. 185

Newsletter January 1999 No. 185


The Al Ain fish suq operations, products, services

by Philip Iddison

(The following is a continuation of Phil’s article on fish available in the Al Ain market. The Al Ain chapter of the ENHG plans to publish this text, along with other publications produced by Phil, for distribution to members.)

The dried fish trade was also well developed in the Oman. Exports are recorded to places such as Ceylon, one merchant handling 200 to 250 tons of fish monthly for ten months of the year with an annual value of £100,000 in the 1950's. Dried sardines were an important item of trade in Oman as they were carried inland and used as camel fodder.

Sardines are still dried on the east coast of the UAE at Fujairah and Khalba. They used to be dried by simply spreading them on the coastal mud flats and more recently I have seen them being dried on the asphalt surface of a redundant section of road, a resourceful idea. These fish are caught by seine netting from the beaches, a four wheel drive vehicle has now replaced human muscles for the job of hauling in the net. Silversides (Atherinidae) were also collected in significant numbers and dried but they were used as fertilizer.

Al Ain Fish Market

The Al Ain fish market is housed in a number of sheds arranged around the open vegetable and food market in the heart of the city. The whole market derives it’s popular name, suq as samak, from the fish sales. The fish are brought overnight from the coastal landing areas by truck in large ice chests. The trucks are driven into the sheds so that the fish can be heaped on benches for sale as the morning wears on and the stock diminishes. One is confronted by mounds of multi-coloured fish backed up by fishmongers wielding sharp knives gutting two kilo trevally specimens whilst vying for your attention for the next sale. The fish is invariably fresh and the customers are knowledgeable and discerning.

The choice is large and spectacular, heaps of silvery sardines, broomtail wrasse in exquisite colours, vicious barracuda and cutlass fish with bared fangs, lines of svelte tuna, a tangle of half-beaks, half a dozen varieties of grouper with bulging eyes, bowls of swimming crabs and prawns, rather evil looking sea catfish with poisonous spines, and a plethora of trevally and bream. Individual fish weigh from a few grams, for instance anchovies, to kingfish and amberjack weighing 15-20 Kg. each.

The appendix records the technical details of this visual treat and also records local fish names gathered from the other Gulf countries.

The market is well patronised by all nationalities with the exception of Europeans and North Americans. They are perhaps too accustomed to the supermarket culture to cope with the vagaries of an open market and all its questionable characteristics; for instance the need to know about the different fish varieties; bargaining skills and the hygiene aspect.

Fish prices are low compared to the west, a kilo of sardines costs 5 Dirhams and most large fish retail at 8 to 20 Dirhams a kilo. Only premium fish such as silver pomfret and the excellent large prawns break this barrier, fetching 25 to 50 Dirhams a kilo for prawns of exceptional size.

Fish Butchery

The term butchery was chosen with care as there is minimal finesse displayed when it comes to cutting up the fish sold to a customer. However the majority of fish sold in the suq are offered for sale intact. In the case of large fish such as tuna, fresh sharks and kingfish, they are usually sliced transversely into steaks. Some fish seem to be prepared as a matter of course, shaeri (emperors) are frequently displayed scaled, gutted, fins trimmed and the head removed. If the vendor cleans a fish for a local he will offer to cut it up and this offer is usually taken up. The fish is then butchered into chunks with no respect for bone structure and must be an alarming prospect to eat. However some local recipes call for the fish to be cooked and then de-boned before the flesh is incorporated into the final dish thus solving the problem.

A separate back alley in the suq has men offering fish cleaning and preparation services for non d-i-y customers.

(Continued in next issue.)

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Climbing the snow-covered ‘Swiss’ in the UAE

by Howard Trillo

Over two Thursdays in December, members of the Climbing Special Interest Group ascended the “Swiss Mountain”, locally known as Jebel Ghawil, by two different routes. A summit that was known to have a reputation as a testing climb managed, despite the dual success of the ascensionists, to retain its aura of difficulty.

However, at the same time, on both occasions, we came away with a real sense of achievement at having overcome both technical difficulty and a strenuous, lengthy day on the hill.

The Swiss Mountain is a massif rather than a single peak, having three summits in all, and appearing at first glance to be ideal as an exercise in traversing – all three summits in one go, from one end of the ridge to the other. While directly under the slopes, this seems quite a feasible option, but experience proves that the view is much fore-shortened, both vertically and horizontally, and I, for one, am now convinced that a high camp or bivouac would be necessary to complete such a traverse comfortably, but what an expedition it would be!

The first day saw Ghassan Zakhour, who had volunteered to be our guide, leading Doone Watson and myself up the first rock ridge approaching the central peak. This gave a good introduction to the sort of scrambling that we would be doing throughout the day, and fortunately the friction of the rock got better as we got higher. A boulder-strewn cirque was ascended diagonally to the west face of the mountain and then a series of gullies and ridges were climbed, often needing a steady head for heights and a confidence in the placement of hands and feet. At least by this time we were out of the sun, which had been quite strong in the cirque, and a snack gave us added energy for the rest of the climb.

The final “summit tower” looked very daunting to at least one of the party, who, for a moment, hesitated and declared they were as near to the top as they needed to be!

However, after gentle persuasion, the whole party climbed this near-vertical section and we were able at last to relax on the summit after a climb lasting some four hours. We were able to take in the marvellous view, stretching across other mountains towards Hatta in the north, to Al Ain and the Red Dunes in the west, and including our approach-vehicle which was truly microscopic in appearance and seemed ever-so-far away! Not so far away was the West summit, and to me it seemed higher than our own – and although Ghassan insisted that it wasn’t, I was not to be persuaded: a point of controversy which provided the incentive for the second ascent (see the next exciting instalment…)

Another three hours saw us back at that vehicle, and quaffing the last remnants of our liquid supplies (and I was only going to take two bottles originally instead of the three that actually filled my rucksack). Although we were all extremely tired, we knew we had experienced a very enjoyable mountain day, in perfect weather and in good company!

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Jebel Hafit expedition ‘98

by Dennis Sollosy

Friday, 12 December 1998 was a day 19 people of the NHG will remember for a long time. They arose in the pre-dawn hours to meet with trip leader Ibrahim Zakhour at Ain Al Fayda. From there it was a short drive through the dim light across the sands to west side of Jebl Hafit and the start point for the last climb of 1998. Everyone was in good humor and looking forward to the challenge of scaling the biggest mountain in the area.

People chatted easily and moved up the slope quickly as our intrepid leader set a stiff pace. He allowed rest stops every so often for people to have breath taking views and a sip or two of water. At one such stop Ibrahim quizzed the group about the name of a particular evergreen tree located on the mountainside. He went so far as to tell us that it had three names, and that the name was _____ ______ perigrina, but he wouldn’t fill in the two blanks. That became assigned homework.

Another plant that was common on the jebel has been dubbed the “cucumber bush”. It has small, shiny green leaves and at certain times of the year bears a fruit that looks very much like small cucumbers. No one knew its correct name. Another bit of homework to do.

At one point in the climb the strata, that are visible as fairly straight layers most of the way up the mountain, suddenly twisted and folded into some interesting shapes. Ibrahim used the opportunity to define the terms of “inclines” and “sinclines”, then put it all together to describe how the jebel was formed a few million years back. It was a mini lesson in plate tectonics and the geological formation of mountains and such things.

The climb to the top took three hours, almost to the minute. Everyone was jubilant at having reached the summit. Within 5 minutes all 19 people were spread out on the flat top of the mountain munching on energy restoring goodies, massaging their legs and feet and taking advantage of the magnificent 360 degree view. It was an exceptionally clear day and the views of Mezyad and the Omani mountains were quite spectacular. Everyone signed the logbook that’s kept under a stone cairn at the top and after a short rest agreed that it was time to retrace their steps back down the mountainside.

The first portion of the descent went well but it didn’t take long before the knees and leg muscles began to feel the strain. By the time the half way mark was reached it became a question of how long the legs were going to last. Some voiced it more than others, but the legs were tiring and everyone was really feeling the rigors of the descent and trying not to stumble over the rocks, or their own feet.

It took three hours to complete the descent and by the time flat ground was reached no one was speaking to anyone any more. The idea was just to concentrate on the next step and pray that one didn’t fall in front of everyone else and have to ask for help in getting up. With a great deal of relief everyone made it down without injuries – just a lot of very sore leg muscles. Some went out that night to a Christmas Carol festival, others went into traction and stayed in bed for the four days.

This was the second mountain of the triple crescent award. The question to be answered now is: “Will there be 19 people on the next climb?”

(For those who intend to complete the Triple Crescent, please see the instructions on page 5 when Ibrahim will lead climbers to the top of the Swiss Mountain, Jebel Ghawil.)

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Email discussion group created for ENHG’s Al Ain members

It is now possible for members of the Al Ain chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group to communicate directly to one another via an email discussion group.

Since its inception, the Al Ain chapter has relied on its monthly newsletter to keep members informed of upcoming events, news, field trips and other information of interest to members. However, the newsletter has its limitations.

Now that a significant number of members have access to email accounts, it seemed appropriate to offer a complementary method of keeping in touch. The monthly newsletter will continue to be published and will always be the official news source for members.

What is an email discussion group? Individuals can join the group as a subscriber. Once the subscription is completed, the individual can send and receive email from other members of the discussion group. Since the transmission is via email, the communication is almost immediate.

Where is the discussion group? Like much of what exists on the Internet, the Emirates Natural History Group discussion group exists only in a virtual sense. The group is established using technology and services provided free of charge by

Who may subscribe? The group is open to any individual around the world. The only requirement is access to a computer and the Internet.

How do I subscribe? The easiest method is to visit the ENHG site established by Listbot; the address is At this site, you will be asked to fill in some information about yourself, including the email address where you wish to receive news from other subscribers. Or send an email to asking to be added to the group.

How does it work? When you send an email to, the message is broadcast to all those who have subscribed.

How will we use the service? There are many advantages to the discussion group. Already our environmental officer has provided members with news and information about recycling and composting, for example. Individual members, on the other hand, can use the service to ask questions, pass on news and observations, make requests, or search for other ENHG members with similar interests. For example, if you are interested in visiting the dhub colony near Bida bint Saud and you’d like someone to join you, or help you to find the colony, send a message to the group.

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Environment Bulletins

(Environment officer Dianne Barber-Riley posted these announcements to the email discussion group, reprinted here for those who do not have an email account.)

Newspaper Collection: Don't forget to take your newspapers to the Hilton on Wednesday for the regular end of month collection. Newspapers can be left outside the deliveries door (opposite the security gate behind the hotel) up to 4.30 pm.

Glass Collection: Al Tajir Glass Co. is ready to accept glass bottles (washed) – without any metallic rings or caps on them. They should also be separated according to the colours (white, colourless, green, brown, etc.). The glass collection is organised by Union Paper Mills at the following sites: Hamriya. Safa Park. Spinneys Jumeira. (All in Dubai.)

The Coastal Waste Collection Establishment has set up recycling centres for waste paper, aluminium cans, and plastics at the following locations: Spinneys Supermarkets in Umm Suqeim, Bur Dubai (Ramada) and Dubai Cinema; Choitram Supermarkets on Jumeira Beach Road and Jebel Ali; Hamriya shopping centre; Fish Market, Karama; Dubai Municipality. Hotel Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Abu Dhabi.

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Web Sites for ENHG types

Do you a web site to share with other ENHG members? If so, please contact the Newsletter editor at to be included in this list.

Previously listed sites:

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Bird Watching Group visits Abu Dhabi, Ghar Lake

by Patricia Simpson

Once again a small but vigorous group turned out in the early morning (18 December) for a day of prowling and looking. The morning was still but really quite unseasonably hot as we set off for Abu Dhabi.

A first stop was at the Eastern Lagoon where the birds are seen from the adjacent walkway. A brief stop only as we had a long schedule ahead, yielded a variety of waders and shore birds (Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Kentish Plover and Redshank as well as, Grey Heron, Intermediate Egret, and Western Reef Heron, dark phase)The lawn was a-bustle with Crested Lark, White Wagtails, a Richard's Pipit and, what we were persuaded was, a very tatty Rufous Bush Robin. Gulls, in wait for the day's scavenging included Great Black-backed and Black-headed.

On the other side of town we caught a golfers' ferry for a 15 minute crossing to Futaisi Island, passing Cormorant undisturbed enroute. The island itself is desert gravel, sparsely inhabited by golfers, one hare (at least) and many burrows of the Spiny-tailed Lizard. But we kept our distance from the golfers and extended the day's list with White-cheeked Bulbul, Desert Wheatear, Great Grey Shrike, Slender-billed Gull (with the softest blush of pink on the breast), Grey Plover, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-tailed Godwit and making good use of the up-draughts flying into the headwind which had developed, a Marsh Harrier. But it was the Osprey that gave us special pleasure. These massive (150cm wing spread) hunters were paired and apparently nesting, one couple on an eroded mushroom of rock and others, probably 3 pairs, improbably on the grass shelters over the golf tees. We saw one pair mating and one changing shifts on the nest.

Ever eager, the Birders stopped on the way home, at the 'enriched salt lake' of the water treatment plant at Al Ghar Lake. Arriving just as good light faded, we even so found large numbers of water birds including ducks (Pintail, Garganey, Mallard and Shoveler) and waders (Little Stint, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Redshank and Black-winged Stilt). Flocks of Greater Flamingo added to the bustle of the lake settling for the night while European Swallow and Sand Martin took final hunting swoops.

We planned our outing from the recently published, The Shell Birdwatching Guide to the United Arab Emirates which proved to be clear and precise with both directions and with relevant information about species. It is a reliable guide for those who want to see the birds of the Emirates.

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