Figure 12 (right). Gargoor traps (Al-Yamani et al., 2004).
A- Gargoor trap (Figure 12): This is the most commonly used movable trap in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf area. Fishing boats are usually seen carrying several gargoor traps on their deck on their way to the fishing grounds. This artisanal fishing method is commonly used by the native people of southern Mesopotamia. The gargoor trap is usually constructed as a small chamber in the shape of a hemisphere with a one-way inwardly tapering conical entrance.
The floor of the trap is made of pieces of wood and a mesh of wire, while the roof is made of arches of stiff wire supporting an outer wire mesh. A large stone is usually put inside the trap to keep it at the bottom (Al-Kholly and Solofiuof, 1980). The trap is baited inside the dome, usually with fish. The top of the dome is connected to a rope fastened to a float such as a large plastic container. Five to ten traps are put in each fishing area, the number used depending on the size of the fishing boat. Each trap will be located about 50-60 meters apart. Traps were usually marked to indicate their owner and are not poached by other fishermen, in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
This method is used to catch large fish species such as grouper, Epinephelus spp., emperor fish, Lethrinus spp., sparid fish, Argyropus spp., and sweetlip, Plectorhynchus spp.
Figure 13 (left). Valve room trap.
Figure 14 (right). Milan trap.
B-Valve room trap (Figure 13): the usual shape of this trap is either circular or square with walls of nets and an entrance fitted with a door-like valve. The door valve opens during high tide and closes during low tide. The size of the trap and the mesh size depend on the targeted species and some physical factors such as winds and the nature of the tide. This type of trap is mainly used in the Shatt al-Arab River estuary at the city of Fao to catch the large-sized fish and sometimes to catch prawns.
C-Milan trap (Figure 14): This old trapping method is mainly used in winter in the Khor Abdullah area. This trap is used to catch several fish species of medium to large size. Khor Abdullah is regarded as a good fishing ground for the king prawn Penaeus semisulcatus, and Milan traps are usually used to catch them there.
The Milan trap consists of two wings each 400 meters long, a death or killing room 2-2.5 meters in diameter, and a guiding wall of net sticks 500 meters long. The trap is V-shaped and with a maximum height of 2.5 metres. The sticks of the trap are usually made from the stiff mid-rib of date palm leaves or reed plants. With the help of the guiding wall, fishes are directed toward the killing room where they remain until the fishermen come to collect them at low tide.
Figure 15. Hadra trap. a. Diagram. b. Actual Hadra trap (Al-Yamani et al., 2004).
D- Hadra trap (Figure 15): The Hadra (Arabic for enclosure) is a traditional, semi-permanent fish trap erected in the intertidal and shallow subtidal zones. Simplicity itself, the Hadra is a highly efficient means of harvesting a wide variety of commercially valuable fish, which swim over tide-covered beaches in search of food.
The traditional construction material is date palm wood, but the modern-day Hadra is made from bamboo poles and galvanized chicken wire that create a rigid structure when strung together. When driven into the shore below the high tide line, it forms a long, straight fence that runs perpendicular to the beach as it heads into the deeper water. The wall curves inward in a spiral to form an enclosure, and then again curves inward, creating a small gap. As the rising tide submerges the trap, the fish swim along the shore and encounter the barrier, and then instinctively they try to swim back along the fence toward deeper water, but are instead guided into the first enclosure. Attempting to escape, they swim into the smaller central gap where they remain. When the tide goes out, the fishermen simply walk across the shore and collect their catch using a hand net. The traps are checked at least once a day, sometimes twice, all year around. Larger fish species are targeted by this method. This trap catches other marine animals such as turtles and dolphins, especially in deeper water toward the south of the Arabian Gulf (Meakins and Al-Mohanna, 2000).
Conservation Methods Some fishing gears are species specific, while others are less discriminating. Some indications of the potential negative side-effects of using certain gear configurations in terms of number of non-target species caught have already been mentioned in the description of the fishing gear and methods for both freshwater and marine fisheries. Most of the target species living in the freshwater and the marine environment of lower Mesopotamia are associated with non-target animals. When such fishing gear as towed or encircling nets are used to catch near-bottom-living demersal fishes, capture of non-target bottom living species is inevitable. In the marine habitat of southern Mesopotamia and in the mid-water and pelagic fisheries, nets may be towed for many hours. As a result, any dolphins, marine turtles or even birds that are caught incidentally are usually drowned by the time the net is hauled in. This is also true with gill nets and traps used in the inland waters where other aquatic animals may be trapped. Young dolphins are sometimes caught in the gill nets set for Indian shad, Tenualosa ilisha, in the Shatt al-Arab River near Basrah, and freshwater leatherback turtles may be caught in gill nets set in the marshlands area. Since different fish species share the same environment in the marshland for example, it is almost impossible to catch barb fish species without other religiously forbidden fish species such as catfish and freshwater eels. Long lines are considered to be amongst the most selective fishing gear in terms of the size and identity of the target fish captured. However, there are numerous examples of marine animals other than fish having been entangled or trapped in static gear (Meakins and Al-Mohanna, 2000). Regrettably such incidental catches undoubtedly give fishermen bad publicity, although most fishermen would gladly avoid these accidental catches if it were possible.
Regardless of the ethical considerations, bycatch often has financial implications for fishing operations. For example, in the marine waters of lower Mesopotamia, sharks are often entangled in the nets and effectively render the net useless. Similarly, in the marshlands, several freshwater catfish species with sharp pectoral spines are commonly entangled in the nets. Thus the pressure to minimize incidental catch and bycatch has come from fishermen, environmentalists and the conservation-motivated public.
Research to reduce bycatch only began about 20 years ago by leading fishing countries (Jennings et al., 2001). Presently, trawlers use a filtering system to remove large bycatch (Robins-Troeger et al., 1995, Brewer et al., 1998), but such devices definitely are not present in the fishing boats operating in the marine zone of lower Mesopotamia. As to the fishermen operating in the marshlands, they do remove the unwanted catch, but only when the net is out of the water. In addition, they leave the bycatch on the bank instead of returning it to the water.
Under the former Ba’athist regime, the State Organisation of Fisheries was responsible for administration of inland and marine fisheries. This organisation had total authority to deal with all concepts of fishing licences for operation in both freshwater and marine habitats. As a Ba’athist organisation, they used to discriminate in issuing such licences. No licences were issued to non-Ba’ath people and no licences were issued to ordinary Marsh Arabs unless they provided a letter of acknowledgement signed by the party member of their region. In addition, control over the most productive fishing areas of the marshlands was supervised directly by Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Saddam Hussein, who would ask fishers to pay him before operating in those areas. Later, after a short period of operation, the State Organisation of Fisheries was abolished and replaced by cooperatives that served marine fisheries in Basrah Province only. As to the inland fisheries operations, they remained under direct control of Uday Hussein and his followers.
Mesh size restrictions have been used as a fish stock conservation tool for many years. The net meshes used in many fisheries are typically diamond-shaped. In case of the trawling nets, once the net is in operation, the drag and weight causes the meshes to close. The meshes then become blocked with debris and bycatch, further reducing the target efficiency of the net.
As far as fisheries legislation was concerned, law No. 48 was issued in 1976 to regulate the exploitation and management of the fisheries sector. According to this law, the State Organisation of Fisheries was fully responsible for checking the mesh size of the nets used by fishers operating in the inland waters and marine habitat. The implication of the law was not correctly followed regarding the mesh size issue as the State Organisation of Fisheries tended to be easy with those fishermen who were members of the Ba’ath Party and strict with those who were not.
Fishermen in the marshlands and the marine waters of lower Mesopotamia violate local fishing laws by using illegal mesh sizes, but fisheries inspectors are unable to detect most illegal fishing incidences due to the inaccessibility of many areas in the marshlands.
Static gear is vulnerable to loss through bad weather conditions or when fishing vessels accidentally snare and tow them away. Regrettably, lost gear can continue to fish independently in some cases. This situation is especially common in the Shatt al-Arab River where fishermen put their set nets across the whole width of the river to catch Indian shad, Tenualosa ilisha. Damage to or severing of the net occurs when boats cross the fishing lines, after which the loose part of the net floats with the tide catching many aquatic animals. Several fish specimens were observed on the Shatt al-Arab riverbank entangled in a broken net (personal observations). Some conservation measures need to be implemented to encourage set gear fisheries to tag gear to make it easier to find in the event that the surface marker buoys are lost.
One of the best ways to reduce bycatch is the use of common sense. Many fisheries research organizations now produce “good-practice” guides that are distributed to fishing organizations. These encourage fishermen to avoid using set net gear in close proximity to the bottom of the fishing grounds. Inevitably some of the best fishing grounds also support large bird or cetacean populations. In the case of the marshlands, the standard of education becomes a barrier between the fishermen and the local authorities, with the fishermen paying no attention to fishing regulations and ignoring inspectors’ warnings.
Socio-economy of fishermen Motivation, behaviour and attitude of fishermen are always important when the assessment and the management of fishing are addressed, although social aspects of fishing management are often neglected.
The two main motives for fishing are food and income. Humans, like other animals, are selective feeders and their foraging activity depends on both physiological need and feeding behaviour (MacArthur and Pianka, 1966, Emlen, 1966). Fishermen usually rank the desirability of prey according to energetic or nutritional value, and foraging decisions will be based on a cost-benefit balance in which the currency of the benefits is energetic or nutritional reward.
On the other hand, aquatic organisms became valuable as a means of earning money or as a commodity that could be traded for other goods. Thus, in the marshlands, it is very important for individual fishermen to know the boundaries of their fishing areas, since each tribe has its own traditional area. Although area boundaries are not marked, they are well known to local fishermen. The marine boundary is defined by the exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from the coast, and protects natural fisheries resources (AOAD, 1986).
During the transition from subsistence to a market economy, the behaviour of fishers often changes because they realize greater overall benefits from selling fish than eating them. This case is quite clear in the villages distributed throughout the marshlands. Here all of the fish caught by villagers close to the fish markets of big cities are usually sold, but for villages located far away from major centres and not within easy range of a fish market, only about 10% of the catch is sold. The former villages use the income from fishing to pay for new motors for their boats, for fuel, for village improvement projects and to upgrade their life style, while the latter villages have a much smaller income that pays for little more than some new boats and fuel (Al-Khait, 1978).
The behaviour of fishermen within their own fishing grounds is influenced by the relative importance of the relevant market economy, which also explains differences in behaviour between fishermen on separate fishing grounds. Within each fishing area, there is a tendency to catch species of higher value by those fishermen who plan to sell their catch. In both the marshlands and the marine waters of lower Mesopotamia, areas with high-value species are usually owned by the stronger tribe (in the case of the marshlands) or exploited by companies that use better fishing vessels (Al-Khait, 1978). Moreover, even though there are no major differences in the structure of the fish communities between grounds, fishermen in the proximity of the main city centres tend to target high value species, while rural villagers are still targeting many species that they fish traditionally rather than dramatically changing their fishing behaviour to suit the whims of the fish markets (Jennings and Paulin, 1996).
Social and religious factors have marked effects on the behaviour for food and income, which are thus not the only motivations for fishing. Social activity can modify fishing activity in ways that can confound fisheries assessment. The example of villages located near the big city centres as opposed to those situated further away represents an extreme example of how social conditions can interfere with work input to determine catch rates. In the latter case, fishermen do not choose to use the most efficient fishing techniques available and they only try to maximize catch rates when fish are in short supply, and at most other times they see no need to maximise efficiency. Time rarely restricts the potential for food gathering since villages can easily complete their fishing and other tasks in one day and refrigerated facilities for storing excess catch are rarely available. They catch enough fish for immediate consumption and treat the prolonged periods of fishing as a recreational and social activity that provides an important chance to spend time away from the village. Of course, this information may be completely unknown to the analyst who only sees catch and effort data on a computer screen, and demonstrates why fishermen, assessment scientists and managers should always discuss their work among each other (personal observations).
Throughout history, man worshipped the water. Ancient Mesopotamians considered water as the means of their existence and the eternal source of their food and even worshipped water gods such as Enki, god of the sweet water (Parrot, 1961). Fishing has long been and remains one of the most life-threatening jobs, and coastal communities such as those near Fao City live with the omnipresent risk of losing loved ones at sea or in the mid-marshlands area. Not surprisingly, fishing communities are often closely linked to religion and this in turn affects their fishing behaviour. Sandra and Maynou (1998) gave an example of the influence of religion on the behaviour of shrimp fishers of the Catalan coast. Catalan fishers, according to religious tradition, fish during the weekdays but do not fish on weekends. Religion also influences fishing in both the marshlands and the marine habitat of southern Mesopotamia. Here the majority of fishermen in both the marsh area and marine habitats are Shiite Muslim, a religion that forbids eating of fish without scales. Thus, all species of catfish, Silurustriostegus, Mystus pelusius, Heteropneustes fossilis, and the freshwater eel, Mastacemblus halepensis found in the marshlands (Al-Hassan et al., 1989) are not included among the targeted species. Any of these species that do get caught are usually thrown back again into the water or left on the riverbank. Large catches of these non-target species will thus lead to huge losses in income. In the marine habitats, even greater numbers of scaleless fish species are usually present in the catch, such as Muraenesox cinereus, Arius thalassinus, and Trichiurus lepturus (Hussain et al., 1988). Bycatch may also include several cartilaginous fish and crustacean species, which are also forbidden as food items by religion and thus represent an additional income loss.
Islamic beliefs play an important role in the timing of fishing activities in the lower Mesopotamian plain. For example, there must be no fishing on Friday or at the end of the Ramadan celebration (3 days) or during the Big Eid (4 days). In addition, during the month of Ramadan, hours of daily fishing are usually reduced due to the religious fasting tradition. Fishermen in the marshlands do not fish on days of the Arabic month of Muharam that commemorates the death of the Shiite Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Mohammad. The implications of such factors will be in favour of the health of the fisheries. Any damage might have occurred to the fish stock will be restored through the period of non-fishing.
Conflicts and conflict resolution
Many fishing areas are viewed as common property and some are entirely open-access. As a result, there is little to be gained by one fisherman trying to conserve fish because someone else will simply catch the fish. In other words, the race to fish occurs because it is better to catch a fish today than to leave it in the water. The consequences of the race to fish have been particularly dramatic in the marshlands where management systems and resources have collapsed. For many poor marsh Arabs, and those living at the edges of the marshlands, the marsh area is the only potential source of food and income. Due to the activities of road building that lead to easy access to the marsh area, increasing numbers of people have entered the fishery of the area, which further contributes to the decline in fish catch. The newcomers have initiated a wholesale destruction of the resource base to maintain their livelihood. This may involve fishing with explosives and poisons that damage the ecosystem, killing most of the non-target species and compromising any possibility of sustaining yields in the future. Such fishing has been termed Malthusian over fishing (Pauly et al., 1989) after the Reverend I. R. Malthus (1766-1834), the “prophet of doom” who described the problems of feeding an exponentially growing human population (Jennings et al., 2001).
During the Ba’athist regime, several leading Ba’ath party members obtained a green light from the higher administration, i.e. Saddam’s eldest son, to undergo illegal fishing operations at the most productive areas of the marshlands. Since this action was illegal, no documents were kept regarding such operations in the Ministry of Agriculture. They were estimated by the locals around hundreds of agencies that employ thousands of fishermen to do the job. As to today’s marshlands, the numbers of newcomers cannot be estimated due to several factors. For example, neither the program of reflooding the marshlands nor the return of the Ma’dan tribes has yet been completed. Thus the number of fishers operating in the area is much smaller than when the marshlands existed in their full extent before the late 1970s.
Competition between fishers using different methods is clearly occurring in certain areas that are permanently closed to certain fishing practices. In such areas, stock may become more abundant than in areas open to the same practice (Schmidt, 1997). Fishermen usually deny access to traditional grounds and are tempted to contravene the rules of closure to obtain a higher catch-rate and short-term monetary rewards. These incursions tend to destabilize the effect of the management measure until a free-for-all situation develops. There is a good example of this situation in the Shatt al-Arab River (Jawad, 2003a), where fishermen set static gill nets right across the width of the river as a wall of nets one beside the other, which are left unattended for ten hours or more. Other fishermen using other fishing gear such as cast net, long line, and line and hook are almost unable to use their gear in this area without damaging the gill nets. The race for using different fishing gear has led to a potential conflict that is not yet settled, and there is close competition between strong tribe-supported fishermen using preferred gear. In the marshlands, fishermen belonging to some strong local tribes usually control a fishing area and do not let fishermen from other tribes operate within it (Al-Khait, 1978). Most of the time, such fishermen consistently use one type of gear that is suitable for catching target species. This selectivity in fishing gear will cause a rise in the stock of other fish species not caught by the same method.
To solve this problem a partition of resources between interested parties needs to be implemented. This can be achieved when the tribes supporting fishermen sit and discuss these problems together (such discussion usually took place in the Mudhifs, the large guest houses). The negotiation always ends when the weak tribe conforms to the ways of the strong tribe (Jawad, unpublished data). Such partition has two advantages: firstly to reduce conflict between different gear users, and secondly, to exclude such gear as small towed nets from certain areas in the marine habitat.
The existence of competition between fishermen helps us understand how a group of fishermen may respond to management measures. For example, if the number of fishermen in the fishing area were reduced then the number of competitive interactions would also fall and catch ability would increase. This would have a different effect on actual fishing mortality than attempts to reduce efforts using methods such as closed areas or seasons that may increase competitive interactions. Competitive interactions also affect the social stability of fishing communities and this may lead to movement of some fishermen or groups of fishermen from one area to another. Until further development proceeds in the marshlands, and especially until the restoration program is completed, the efforts to reduce the number of fishermen in a given fishing area cannot be achieved. It can only be properly implemented through fishing cooperatives that organise and monitor fishing activity in the marshlands (AOAD, 1986).
Fish might be behind several undocumented battles between strong tribes in the marshlands, who used whatever weapons were available in order to get control over rich fishing areas. Strong well-supported tribes usually win the conflicts and spread their fishing rules in the area. The distribution of fish played such a role throughout history and is still doing so (Kurlansky, 1997).
Such conflicts are absent in the marine habitats of the lower Mesopotamian plain due to the complete control of the area by government and through the fisheries cooperatives that implement the fisheries laws more strictly in the marine habitat. Some social factors stand behind this success. People living south of Basrah in or near the city of Fao are completely socially different from the Marsh Arabs, and have a minimum education level higher than those of the Marsh Arabs. Moreover, Marsh Arabs often have the habit of flaunting authority (Al-Khait, 1978).
Traditional Management Systems
Ruddle et al. (1992) in their work on marine resources management termed the type of management that occurred in the non-industrialized nations as Traditional Management. This seems to be an effective management scheme in such societies because local customs and behaviour discourage the race to fish that has affected common property resources.
Property rights are the bases for traditional management systems (Hall, 1999). There are two levels of operation of such rights. Level 1 includes the exclusive use of local resources that are enforced by the right of a community to prevent poaching. Level 2 looks at the management in the allocation of the shared resources among the communal users. These systems are usually well enforced, as they tend to be self-policed by fishermen. Therefore, the fate of the resources will be under the control of the local community and not subject to human influences outside their control.
Many fishing grounds in the marshlands are managed using traditional systems. These evolved through the need to conserve resources or through conflicts. At the present time, and in rural marshlands areas, these systems are still operational in spite of the population growth, changes in legal systems, urbanization, commercialisation and technological change (Hadid and Al-Mahdawi, 1977).
Traditional systems management focuses on resolving gear use or allocation problems. Access control is enforced by fishermen and by local moral and political authority. Elements of contemporary strategies applied to fishermen who violate them are the major issues of many traditional systems applied in the marsh area by tribes. Supernatural sanctions are probably the most effective punishment for poachers. As Shiite-Muslims, the marsh Arabs have among them a number of individuals termed “Syeds” (The Masters), who claim descent from the Prophet Mohammad. They usually wear green scarves on their heads, the colour standing for peace for Muslims through the centuries. Therefore, any fishing area put under their names will be guarded by their supernatural power and the poachers will face damage or disappearance of gear, or the threat of sickness or death for them or for their families. Clearly, illegal fishing was unlikely to be rewarding when it was against Islamic teaching.
Jennings et al. (2001) suggested that many traditional management systems broke down in parts of the Pacific following colonial intervention. In the lower Mesopotamian plain, however, the colonial intervention instead gave more power to tribes and more support to the traditional management systems. The colonial intervention achieved two aims: first, they can control the whole area by monitoring the heads of tribes; second, they do not need to involve any personnel from their side that might get killed in an unexpected conflict with the Marsh Arabs. Moreover, the colonial forces introduced what is known as customary freshwater tenure systems where certain families of a tribe control each fishing area. The tribe usually appoints some people to manage a fishing operation and the individual fisherman then works within a group in a certain fishing area that belongs to a known family within the tribe (Jawad, unpublished data).