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Fishing for rewards

With a huge portion of the seafood in Dubai coming from Oman, what checks are in place in the cold chain to ensure the quality of fish making their way to our table?

| | Oct 11, 2018 | 10:03 am
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Every day at midnight, the loading dock of Deira’s Waterfront market comes to life. While the rest of Dubai is fast asleep, fish brokers, such as Abdul Malik, are hard at work in preparation for the wave of buyers that visit them at 1am – the time designated for the sale of fish from Oman.

Abdul Malik

“It’s low season,” Malik says, sweating under a late-August moon. Like other vendors, he has to be wary of spot inspections being undertaken by Dubai Municipality to check the quality and hygiene of the trucks in Waterfront. Throughout the year, Malik receives a minimum of three to a maximum of six refrigerated vehicles containing seafood from the Sultanate. This is a fraction of the 150 vehicles that come every day from Oman.

The drive from Oman takes approximately three hours, depending on how near the supply is to the border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The distance plays a big role in the decisions of brokers with regard to the type of vehicle in which the fish is transported. Some species, like king fish and tuna, are in high demand but can only be obtained from farther regions in Oman, which will require a more sophisticated truck to manage the longer distance and drive, which can last as long as seven hours. The trucks vary from cruisers to big refrigerated trucks with a capacity ranging from seven to 10 tonnes.

Malik says that most of the fish come from Khasab, a port city on northern Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, with as much as 20 vehicles arriving each day. Fish, caught early in the morning, will be packed in ice, he explains, and brought to the market in Oman, on the same day. There, brokers facilitate the sale and load the fish on to trucks – some in medium-sized reefers, while smaller species are placed in chillers, before making their way to Dubai.

The temperature of the truck is important to Malik, to ensure the quality of the fish, as lack of vigilance will translate to loss in profits in the form of unsatisfied customers. In worse cases, lack of vigilance can lead to fines. This is a constant fear for all brokers, Malik says. Before crossing the border, he explains, a municipality representative from Oman checks the quality of the fish and the state of the trucks to determine whether they are fit to cross the border. Once the consignment crosses the border to the UAE side, he says, the truck will undergo another round of inspections from the local authorities.

The UAE authorities, Malik explains, enter the truck to inspect the state of the vehicle and the quality of the fish being transported. If anything is amiss, or if they find spoilage in one or two crates, the broker associated with the truck gets fined, the truck and its contents are turned away, and the broker and the vendor no longer are allowed to sell the harvest from the sea.

Malik says that inspection could last from half an hour to 40 minutes, before the customs authorities issue a clearance certificate, which provides a summary of the inspection, as well as details pertaining to the quantity and quality of the fish. Otherwise, the vendor would be fined, Malik says, which can range from AED 1,000 to 10,000, depending on the kind of violation discovered.

Fish stored in a refrigerated warehouse

Sunny Pathak, Security Supervisor, Waterfront, says that all vendors that enter the premises must present the certificate provided by customs authorities, which management will then pass on to the government. “Everywhere, it is strict,” he says. “This is the main market in Dubai. Many supermarkets and restaurants, they come and buy here, and also, it gets sent to other countries. They have to protect [the quality].”

“Without this paper,” Malik says, while showing a sample of the customs certificate provided by the UAE officials at the border, “you cannot buy, and you cannot come into Dubai, and when going back to Khasab, you need to show this paper at the Oman border. They are very strict.”

Seafood requires refrigeration to ensure quality and freshness

Spoilage, Malik adds, unfortunately, remains inevitable, especially during summer, primarily owing to improper practices by fishermen, who may not have put the seafood in the chiller or on ice immediately. In such cases, they make sure to remove it, he says, else the border officials will.

The strict measures across all points, particularly at the border, Pathak says, are necessary, especially because in Dubai, 60% of the fish comes from Oman. With such a huge volume of fish being transported, protecting the quality of the merchandise is imperative.


Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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