The Fleeting Fisherman of Mina Zayed

Nandini Kochar’s captures the end of a chapter in the history of Abu Dhabi’s fishing industry.

The background

Even before COVID-19 hit the UAE, a significant migrant community in Abu Dhabi endured their own upheaval. Starting from January this year, hundreds of Mina Zayed fishermen left back to India, the country they had migrated from decades ago in search of work.

This was the outcome of a state-enforced ban on traditional fishing traps in March last year, marking the end of a chapter in Abu Dhabi’s fishing industry.

While this uprooting has meant the much-awaited return of husbands, fathers, and sons to their families, it has concurrently inflicted a great loss to this community of over 200 Gujarati fishermen who had intimately lived and worked alongside each other for years.

This bittersweet departure has been documented through the story of two such fishermen who returned to India in March this year.  

The story

Ibrahim and Ramesh leisure together in one of the last occupied cabins of the port. Both men have worked together at the port for over twenty years. (names have been changed to maintain anonymity)

“Almost all the men have left,” Ibrahim explains. “It’s just a few of us remaining.” This famous harbour which once had over 150 boats bustling with chatter, bollywood music and a warm dusty aroma, now stands spiritless and barren.

Around noon, Ramesh begins to prepare a meal for himself and a few other fishermen.

“Our work is catching fish. If we can’t do that then what’s the point? I have to pay for my children’s schooling and save up for their marriage,” shares Ramesh.

An abandoned cabin with leftover trinkets and a small altar that remains untouched.

“We have lived together for many years, it’s difficult to leave. All of us are Gujarati folk. We celebrated both Eid and Diwali together, cooked and even prayed together,” Ibrahim recalls. 

The memories

Ibrahim and Ramesh reminiscence over their time in Abu Dhabi.

At one time, each boat was occupied by 4-5 men who would come up to the decks to rest. Ramesh shares, “We spent most of our time on top here. We would only go inside if it rained or got cold.”

Ibrahim’s emptied cabin a day before the men are scheduled to leave.

The departure

On the day of departure, the remaining men of Mina Zayed come together to bid farewell to their friends. Ramesh’s close friends hold onto him tightly.

Ibrahim, Ramesh and one more friend leave for Abu Dhabi Airport.

The fishermen left behind share, “Some of us are staying here to wait and see if the government changes their policy.”

Only time can tell what will be the fate of the last few fishermen of Mina Zayed.

About the Author

Nandini Kochar is a Film and Sociology student at NYU Abu Dhabi. As  the founder of Humans of Abu Dhabi, Nandini focuses on human-centered photojournalism and portraitures of migrant communities in the UAE. 

About the author