Monday, 30 April 2012, 06:54 GMT
Dokan's fish fight for their survival

A traveler buying fish at Najat Sabir's shop in Dokan, north of Suleimaniya, March 16, 2012./ GLOBE PHOTO/Aiyob Mawloodi

The Kurdish Globe
By Aiyob Mawloodi--Erbil

Kurdistan's rivers quickly emptying out in part due to illegal fishing

Tourists count for the majority of fish consumers in Dokan

Just as springtime arrived--the season when fish reproduce--the government banned fishing throughout Kurdistan Region from April 1 till June 15.

Najad Sabir, a fish vendor on Dokan's main street between Erbil and Suleimaniya, argues that the timing is not ideal. "In fact, the ban should have been applied from May 1 until July 15," he said while cleaning fish customers. "This is the reproduction season--not the one set by the government. I have seen fish in mid-July still not laying eggs."

Sabir told the Globe that those making decisions in the government are not specialized in this field and sometimes make uninformed decisions.

Lacking a sea, Kurdistan's fish live only in the rivers and lakes. To compound that, the number of domestic fish is very low compared to market demand. According to Sabir, 80 percent of the Region's fish is imported from neighboring countries, especially Iran and Turkey. "Our domestic fish resources are about 10 percent to 15 percent, and the remaining 5 percent comes from southern Iraq," explained Sabir.

Despite Kurdistan's limited fish resources and the regulations set by the Kurdistan Regional Government's authorities to protect these resources, the Region's fish still face threats. According to Abdulrahman Karim, another fish vendor, fishermen with influence and power, or those who are related to officials in one way or another, are the biggest threat, as they are

"The majority of the violations are made by the officials," explained Sabir. "Although the government punishes those who violate the laws and regulations, still there are officials and influential people who harm the fish and other fishermen. There are people who hunt fish with guns in the [Dokan] dam, where hunting is prohibited."

Karim and Sabir both argued that many hunters have been fined for violations; the maximum fine was about three millions Iraqi Dinars (approximately US$2,500). Karim, however, believes that the fines are too small for those who are already extremely wealthy and powerful and earn "10 times more than this" by fishing.

Taking this into consideration, fish retailers in Dokan prefer penalties beyond mere financial fines.

Witnesses claim that the majority of illegal fishing occurred during the spring ban period.

Another phenomenon among fish hunters in Dokan, according to Sabir, is dividing the dam's water into territories among fishermen, by which hunters will gain exclusive fishing rights in a specific area of the water.

"The dam is a public property and the fish living in the water belong to the whole region, but only a number of people have monopolized this resource and they make unbelievable money out of this," said Aras Abdulla, a fish vendor since 1998. "Without any legal ownership documents, those people use various illegal ways for fishing in their "exclusive territory" such as electric shock, dynamite or nets."

While claiming that there is no control over this act, Abdulla argues that the government should put an end to it and rent fishing territories to fishermen; they should then use the revenues to improve the fish wealth in the region.

Also posing a threat to fish in Dokan Dam and elsewhere in Kurdistan is the fish eggs incubated into the water by the government. Abdulla argues that these eggs grow into two fish species that eat the eggs of the other fish naturally living in the water, something that significantly harms the reproduction of the good species of fish.

Considering the state of fishing in the Region, the demand for fish has been on a steady increase in the past few years. Thanks to its location on the main road connecting Erbil and Suleimaniya and the tourist attractions around it, Dokan is always crowded with local and foreign tourists attracted to thousands of fish showcased on the sides of the street in dozens of shops.

As Karim said, the majority of their customers are tourists and travelers passing by. "For instance, we sell the largest amount of fish during Fridays and picnic seasons, when largest number of tourists and travelers are around."

"On a summer Friday, we would sell 300-400 kilos of fish," argued Abdulla as a number of customers examined the dozen different types of fish showcased in front of his shop on the street. "Generally fish market is higher in summer than winter due to huge number of tourists coming from inside and outside the region."

Although fish prices are very high--with the prices of some fish exceeding 25,000 to 30,000 Iraqi Dinars, (approximately US$20 to US$25) per kilogram, the fish market remains hot in Dokan.