Fishing in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia
I have never been a fishing enthusiast, and even when I tried fishing, I was never lucky enough to bring in any good catch. However, when I was working in Al Lith, Saudi Arabia, our workplace was by the Red Sea and the only decent thing to do on weekends was to go swimming, diving or fishing, aside from driving to the many interesting mountain resorts such as Abha and enjoying the mild weather.
Some of my staff were from the Philippines and some were fishermen whose natural talents at fishing with a homemade 'spear gun' were amazing. They actually did the fishing. We were there only to enjoy the catch!
I have not eaten all the fish from around the world, but fish from the Red Sea were by far the best that I have tasted so far. I suspect the high salinity level of the Red Sea is the reason Red Sea fish taste so good.
The Red Sea, Surrounded by Six Countries
The Red Sea is Special
So what is so special about the Red Sea?
To start with, it has over 1,240 miles (2,000 km) of coral reefs aged more than 5000 years. Found along its coastline, the reefs provide shelter and food to over 1200 species of fish and 10% of these cannot be found in any other part of the world.
Another reason the Red Sea is special is its high salinity level of about 40 ‰. This is higher than the world average (of 35 ‰) by about 14% and is due to the followings:
- The countries that border the Red Sea are mainly desert countries (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti) that produce no significant rivers that run into the sea.
- These desert countries also experience extremely hot weather that results in a high evaporation rate
- They also get less rain than other parts of the world
- The geographical shape of the sea restricts access to neighboring seas (the Gulf of Aden\Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea) with lower salinity levels.
This high salinity level makes snorkeling difficult, as every time you dive in, the sea pushes you back to the surface. The only way to stay below the surface is to hang on to the coral reefs or wear something heavy.
Preparing the Fish
It will usually take about an hour for this group to catch the fish with their homemade spear guns. Most of the time, it will be a good catch, enough for our group of 20 hungry people. You will have three people busy fishing and the rest of the seventeen waiting eagerly at the shore for the catch! Once the fish were brought to shore, they are cleaned and either barbecued or made into sushi. For this chore, the fishermen will take a break and the rest of us will cook!
We do not need any seasoning for the barbecue, as the fish is already tasty on its own. Not even salt or pepper.
One of the things that I observed about these fish are their colors, they are so colorful. My favorite fish happens to be called parrot-fish. It got its name from its teeth that are bonded into a powerful parrot-like beak. This brightly colored fish is a hermaphrodite and apparently, lives in harems with a strong and dominant male parrot-fish. Talk about life!
Do you know why some fish are more colorful than others? It seems that in their fight for mates, the most colorful and brightly colored fish will win the 'battle'. They will also change their color to indicate their readiness and willingness to mate.
Some will use colors to camouflage while others will use colors as a form of communication. Generally, coral fish are more colorful than open-sea fish.
Red Sea Fish
The Red Sea is home to several types of fish including some dangerous ones. Some of the aggressive and poisonous fish found in the area where we swam and fished are as follows.
There are more than 320 species of sharks in the Red Sea. The aggressive and voracious predators are the Tiger Sharks, Hammer Sharks, and Grey Reef Sharks. Grey Reef Sharks were sighted in several places near our coastline. However, the place where we swam and fished is 'protected' by several miles of reefs and shallow water, which prevented the sharks from entering.
Other aggressive fishes are the moray eels and surgeonfish.
Despite their look, moray eels are actually shy creatures and will only attack in self-defense. This usually happens if you disrupt their burrow. They also have poor vision, hence will rely mainly on their sense of smell. If you attempt to hand feed moray eels, you might end up losing your finger as they might have difficulty distinguishing the food from your finger!
Pufferfish and Boxfish are some of the poisonous fish found in this area. My Filipino staff seems to differ on this matter. In fact, puffer-fish is one of their favorite fish!
Moray Eels and Puffer Fish
I have never tried Moray eel before. In fact, the sight of the creature already put me off. It also reminds me of the evil eel characters, Flotsam and Jetsam, in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'.
Although it looks more of a snake than a fish, it is actually a fish. It looks ferocious and you will never imagine that it could actually taste great!
My Filipino staff were more adventurous when it comes to food. Eating moray is a common thing for them and I was not sure if I should try it. However, after seeing them eating the moray, I give it a go.
Puffer Fish Liver
They also convinced me that eating the liver of the pufferfish is OK and I would not die from doing so. After trying it, I must confess that the liver was fantastic and I loved it!
Even my English friend, whose taste buds for these 'exotic foods' take a lot of convincing, totally agreed with me.
Later I found out that the liver is the tastiest and the best part of the fish. Unfortunately, it happens to be the most poisonous and as a result serving pufferfish liver was banned in Japan since 1984!
That we survived after eating it led me to conclude that the pufferfish caught in these waters do not have the deadly toxins that we tend to associate them with. Maybe we were lucky!
How the Red Sea Got its Name
You probably wonder how the Red Sea got its name and if the sea is red in color.
Well, the sea is a beautiful blue color and is not red. Sometimes it does appear red. This is due to the seasonal blooms of the marine plant, Trichodesmium erythraeum, which produces red blossoms. That is probably how it got its name.
Saudi Arabia's Fishing Industry
The relatively good weather, warm climate, diversity of fish species and calmness of the Red Sea make fishing an active sport and industry all year round. This is happening in countries such as Egypt, but not in Saudi Arabia.
Despite having 4,703 miles (7,570 km) of coastline and the abundance of fish in its coastal water, Saudi Arabia's fishing industry is still underdeveloped.
This will all change as the Saudi government recently signed a technical assistance agreement with FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This 5-year program from 2012 to 2016 will cover several sectors including the fishing industry and will benefit the fishermen who are currently working on a small scale.
Protect the Red Sea
As mentioned earlier, all the countries that border the Red Sea are desert countries. With little rain and fresh water sources, these countries, including Saudi Arabia, depend on seawater as a source of water for daily use. Hence, the production of desalinated water. As demands increases, more desalination plants are built.
Unfortunately, the desalination process produces warm brine as well as treatment chemicals that are then discharged back to the sea. Over time, these will have a nasty effect on the reefs, corals and other marine life.
The authorities should monitor these issues and take immediate actions in order to protect not just the marine life but also its infant fishing industry.