Foodways: Researching Fishing Practices in Dhofar and Selected Bibliographies

(photo by Hussein BaOmar)


In my first book I wrote a little about Dhofari fishermen in terms of how they viewed their independence and interdependence. For my second book, I wrote about procuring and gifting fish. I then changed my research focus to houses.

However, in early 2021 I happened to hear a discussion between several researchers who believe that Dhofaris are not as connected to the natural world as they have been in previous generations. One affirmed that Dhofari men no longer work with their hands. Another researcher has told me that that fishing is now outsourced to expat laborers.

This was interesting to hear as it is a good lesson in how different researchers can view the same area in different ways. Those researchers are talking to different types of people and looking at different issues than I am. The men who are part of my research group have all done and continue to do different types of manual labor, including daily fishing.

There is a lot of casual expat fishing in Dhofar: non-Omanis fishing from shore and/ or in hired boats to do sport fishing or catch a few fish for dinner. There are also expat laborers who are connected to the fishing industry by working to clean boats, repair nets, put together fish traps, help fishermen load and unload boats etc.

My perspective is that I have been talking with Dhofari fishermen who work in the coastal towns of Salalah [the main city in the Dhofar region], Taqa (28 km east of Salalah), Mirabt (70 km E), Sudah (135 km E), Hadbeen/ Hadbin (167km E) and Hasik (187 km E) for over 15 years. I have been with Dhofari men in boats throwing nets, throwing boxes, fishing for tuna and fishing with live bait during over a dozen fishing trips in boats, as well as more than 20 fishing-from-shore outings. I have also done several boat excursions. I have watched Dhofari fishermen leaving and returning to shore dozens of times and listened to men discuss fishing trips during most of the over 350 picnic dinners I have attended. I have only once seen an expat laborer take part in a fishing trip on a boat.

Thus, after hearing that discussion between researchers, I thought about how I could best set out what I have seen to add to the on-going conversations about Dhofari cultures. One idea was to document the different kinds of labor the men in my research group are involved in such as herding camels, another was to try to code how many hours per day were spent outside in different locations. But given the persistence of the pandemic, I realized I needed to work on something that would could be done mainly by distance. I also wanted to work on something about which there was no or little current data.

I finally decided on a simple question: how much does fishing cost? I could do interviews on windy beaches for safety and during my food research I found no other similar research on the Arabian Peninsula although there has been work done on the types of fish along the Omani coast (e.g. Al-Jufaili, Hermosa, Al-Shuaily and Al Mujaini 2010; Choudri, Baawain and Mustaque 2016, Harrison 1980; McKoy, Bagley, Gauthier and Devine 2009) and how fish are sold (e.g. Al-Marshudi and Kotagama 2006; Al Rashdi and Mclean 2014; William and Fidelity Lancaster 1995; Omezzine 1998, Omezzine, Zaibet and Al-Oufi 1996; Siddeek, Fouda and Hermosa 1999).

Research Trajectory

Most research on fishing concentrates on which kinds of fish were caught and how they are sold. I wanted to look at fishing from another angle: how do Dhofari fishermen prepare to catch fish? I am very grateful for the many hours informants spent with me going over the costs and answering questions over the past year. I am also grateful to Helen Macbeth and the International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition for organizing the very interesting “Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future” conference hosted at the University of Liverpool in September, 2021 [ ].

When I started my research on fishing costs I had thought to frame with discussion by talking about the non-monetary costs and benefits to fishing but the data led me in another direction. First, given the cultural disinclination to brag or report good deeds, it was not easy to get fishermen to talk about how they often gave fish away. Secondly, to my surprise, fishermen did not perceive any drawbacks to fishing. I had supposed that being away from home for long periods of time might be seen as creating difficulties for family members but fishermen affirmed that they would either buy supplies for the house before they left or that other family members would help to bring anything that was needed.

Most of my time was spent trying to figure out the cost of all the component parts of a fishing trip, but the most interesting conversations were about how the day’s catch is divided. In one interview I threw out a series of math-problem hypotheticals such as: If four men caught 100 kilo of fish how many kilo would each person take home and how much would be sold?

My informant started to work through long decision trees while I simply wanted a clear number. After a few minutes of frustration, I realized that I was approaching the subject from the wrong direction as I have a non-tribal, non-community-based outlook. There is no answer to: If four men caught 100 kilo of fish how many kilo would each person take home? It’s a meaningless question because in Dhofar each of the men would take into account a whole series of factors before deciding how to divide the fish such as how many people lived in each of the men’s houses.

Trying to articulate how decisions are made about sharing the fish and the profit led to many interesting discussions and connected back to my previous work about gift-giving in Dhofar (in the list of references below).

Three cultural understandings were explained over the course of several conversations on windy beaches. First, fishermen told me that in other parts of Oman the owner of the boat takes a double share of the profit. For example if 4 men went fishing and the profit was 200 OR, the money would be split 5 ways, with the boat-owner taking 80 OR (2 shares of 40 OR each). In Dhofar, the 4 men would first pay all the costs for the fishing trip, then divide the profit by 4, with the boat owner taking the same share as the other men.

However if the boat or engine needed repair, that money would be also taken out of the profit before splitting the money. For example if 4 men had a profit of 200 OR after paying for the expenses of gas, food, bait. etc. but the engine had just been repaired at a cost of 100 OR, the boat-owner would be given 100 OR. The remaining 100 OR would be divided equally between the 4 men. [Money for boat and engine repairs is sometimes fronted by the man who buys the catch, then repaid from future profits without any interest charged.]

Secondly, the fish must always be divided in the same manner, even if the fish are used for different purposes. For example, one fisherman (X) explained that he often went fishing with a man (Y) who had only a few people living in his house while X had over 25 people in two houses for whom he supplied fish. Before selling the catch, X would set aside at least 3 large fish for his family and put the same amount aside for Y. Y would protest that he didn’t need that much fish. X insisted that Y take an equal share, even if Y’s fish would be given away and not used by Y’s family.

Lastly, given my previous work on gift-giving, I had thought that perhaps a fisherman would ask for extra fish if, for example, he planned to go camping with friends so he would need more fish. Or he might decline to take fish if all of his family was out of the house so there was no need to bring fish for dinner. Or if one fisherman was known to be in need, the others would swear that all the proceeds would go to him or a man could ask for more than his share as a loan. And I wondered how fishermen dealt with a man who frequently asked for extra fish or money.

The answers to these queries was that a group of men may fish together for a season, several seasons or for years [men change groups because of someone buying or selling a boat, having more or less time to fish, etc.] but once in a group everyone attempts to keep a fair and level distribution of fish and profits at all times. No one should ever ask for more than his share or attempt to decline his share.

If a man is in need, he can ask his friends after the distribution. The cultural understandings I had previously worked out were for personal situations. Fishing was “work,” I was told and within “work” there must careful attention that everyone is given an equal share. This is done in part because Dhofaris usually try to cover their problems.

One example I was given that if A, B, C, and D go fishing and A proposes to give that they give the day’s profit to B because B will get married soon, perhaps C is planning to take a family member to Muscat for a health emergency and actually has more need of the money. Rather than trying to decide who has what need, the fish and money are split evenly but not a predetermined levels such as each man will take 5 kilos.

At some point I would like to engage with the articles listed below in terms of how others’ research corresponds to the Dhofari context, particularly with the Lancasters’ excellent, detailed discussion of fishing in Ja’alân and Al Rashdi and Mclean’s article about women and fishing in Al Wusta.


  • selected bibliography – fish and fishing in Oman
  • related research on M. Risse’s website
  • related publications and presentations by M. Risse
    • books
    • other publications
    • presentations
    • research in partnership with other members of the Dhofar University community

Selected Bibliography – Fish and Fishing in Oman

Al-Jufaili, Saud, Greg Hermosa, Sulaiman S. Al-Shuaily and Amal Al Mujaini. 2010. “Oman Fish Biodiversity.” Journal of King Abdulaziz University 21.1: 3-51.

Al-Marshudi, Ahmed Salim and Hemesiri Kotagama. 2006. “Socio-Economic Structure and Performance of Traditional Fishermen in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resource Economics 21: 221-30.

Al Rashdi, K. and E. Mclean. 2014. “Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to the Livelihoods of Omani Women: A Case Study of the Al Wusta Governorate.” Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries: Navigating Change – Asian Fisheries Science Special Issue 27S: 135-149.

Chittick, Neville. 1980. “Sewn Boats in the Indian Ocean, and a Survival in Somalia.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 9.4: 297-310.

Choudri, B., Mahad Baawain, and Mustaque Ahmed. 2016. “An Overview of Coastal and Marine Resources and their Management in Sultanate of Oman.” Journal of Environmental Management and Tourism 7.1: 21-32.

Clements, Frank.  1977. “The Islands of Kuria Muria: A Civil Aid Project in the Sultanate of Oman Administered from Salalah, Regional Capital of Dhofar.” Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies) 4.1: 37-39.

Field, Richard. 2013. Reef Fishes of Oman. Gharghur, Malta: Richard and Mary Field.

Gardner, Andrew. 2013. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Oman and the UAE. Frankfurt: Edition Chimaira.

Haines, Stafford. 1939. “Memoir to Accompany a Chart of the South Coast of Arabia from the Entrance of the Red Sea to Misenat, in 50, 43, 25 E. Part I.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 9: 125-56.

—. 1845. “Memoir of the South and East Coasts of Arabia: Part II.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 15: 104-60.

Harrison, David. 1980. The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Janzen, Jorg. 1986. Nomads in the Sultanate of Oman: Tradition and Development in Dhofar. London: Westview Press.

The Journal of Oman Studies: Special Report 2: The Oman Flora and Fauna Survey 1975. Muscat: Diwan of H. M. for Protocol.

Kenderdine, Sarah and Tom Vosmer. 1994. “Maritime Graffiti in Oman.” Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology 18: 33-45.

Lancaster, William and Fidelity Lancaster. 1995. “Nomadic Fishermen of Ja’alân, Oman.” Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-44.

McKoy, John, Neil Bagley, Stéphane Gauthier, and Jennifer Devine. 2009. Fish Resources Assessment Survey of the Arabian Sea Coast of Oman – Technical Report 1. Auckland: Bruce Shallard and Associates and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

Mendonca, Vanda, Barry Jupp, Musallam Al Jabri, Thuraya Al Sariri and Mohamed Al Muzaini. 2003. National Report on the State of the Marine Environment. Muscat: Ministry of Regional Municipalities, Environment & Water Resources, Marine Pollution and Coastal Zone Management Section.

Morris, Miranda. 1987. “Dhofar – What Made it Different’,” in Oman: Economic, Social and Strategic Development. B.R. Pridham, ed. London: Croom Helm. 51-78.

“National Aquaculture Sector Overview-Oman.”  2019.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

Omezzine, Abdallah. 1998. “On-shore Fresh Fish Markets in Oman.” Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing 10.1: 53-69.

Omezzine, Abdallah, Lokman Zaibet and Hamad Al-Oufi. 1996. “The Marketing System of Fresh Fish Products on the Masirah Island in the Sultanate of Oman.” Marine Resources Economics 11: 203-10.

Randall, John. 1996. Coastal Fishes of Oman. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Saunders, J. P. 1846. “A Short Memoir of the Proceedings of the Honorable Company’s Surveying Brig ‘Palinurus,’ during Her Late Examination of the Coast between Ras Morbat and Ras Seger, and between Ras Fartak and the Ruins of Mesinah.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 16: 169-86.

Serjeant, Robert. 1995. “Customary Law Among the Fishermen of al-Shihr,”in Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia: Studies in Customary Law and Practice. G. Rex Smith, ed. Aldershot: Variorum. 193-203.

—. 1968. “Fisher-Folk and Fish-Traps in al-Baḥrain.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 31.3: 486–514.

Siddeek, M., M. Fouda and G. Hermosa. 1999. “Demersal Fisheries of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.” Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 49.1: 87-97.

“Sustainable Management of the Fisheries Sector in Oman: A Vision for Shared Prosperity, World Bank Advisory Assignment.” 2015. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group and Muscat: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth.

Tabook, Salim Bakhit. 1997. Tribal Practices and Folklore of Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman. Unpublished PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, Exeter University.

Vosmer, Tom. 1997. “Indigenous Fishing Craft of Oman.” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 26.3: 217-35.

—. 1993. “The Omani Dhow Recording Project: Sultanate of Oman.” Indian Ocean Review 6.2: 18-21.

Wilkinson, J. C. 2013. Water & Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia (Studies on Ibadism and Oman). New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

related research on M. Risse’s website:

related publications and presentations by M. Risse


Foodways in Southern Oman. Routledge, 2021

This book examines the objects, practices and beliefs relating to producing, obtaining, cooking, eating and disposing of food in the Dhofar region of southern Oman. The chapters consider food preparation, who makes what kind of food, and how and when meals are eaten. Dr. Risse connects what is consumed to themes such as land usage, gender, age, purity, privacy and generosity. She also discusses how foodways are related to issues of morality, safety, religion, and tourism. The volume is a result of fourteen years of collecting data and insights in Dhofar, covering topics such as catching fish, herding camels, growing fruits, designing kitchens, cooking meals and setting leftovers out for animals.

Community and Autonomy in Southern Oman. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019

This book explores how, in cultures which prize conformity, there is latitude for people who choose not to conform either for a short time and how the chances to assert independence change over time. The main focus is on how the traits of self-control and self-respect are manifested in the everyday actions of several groups of tribes whose first language is Gibali (Jebbali/ Jebali, also referred to as Shari/ Shahri), a non-written, Modern South Arabian language. Although no work can express the totality of a culture, this text describes how Gibalis are constantly shifting between preserving autonomy and signaling membership in family, tribal and national communities.

other publications

“Questions About Food and Ethics,” in Emanations: When a Planet was a Planet. Brookline, MA: International Authors, 2021. 403-408.

“What’s in Your Bag?” Anthropology News. American Anthropological Association. Oct. 30, 2019.

“Generosity, Gift-giving and Gift-avoiding in Southern Oman,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 45 (Oxford: Archeopress) 2015: 289-296.


“The Costs and Benefits of Fishing in Southern Oman.” Fish as Food: Lifestyle and a Sustainable Future, annual conference of the International Commission on the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted at the University of Liverpool. Sept. 1, 2021.

“Ethical Eating in Southern Oman.” Just Food, virtual conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society; Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society; Canadian Association for Food Studies and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America and New York University. June 12, 2021.

“Foodways in Southern Oman.” for the session “Uncovering Truths, Building Responsibility in A Pandemic: Insights from Emerging Monographs at the Nexus of Culture, Food, and Agriculture.” American Anthropological Association, on-line conference. Nov. 9, 2020.

“Foodways in Southern Oman” (June 23) and “Overview of Community and Autonomy in Southern Oman” (June 16) for the Language and/or Nature in Southern Arabia Workshop, sponsored by Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds. 2020.

“Foodways and Society in Southern Oman.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Leeds. June 26, 2019.

“Accounts from the Journeys of the Brig ‘Palinurus’ Along the Dhofar Coast in the mid-1800s.” Maritime Exploration and Memory Conference, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England. Sept. 15, 2018.

“‘Words Mean Nothing’: Fluency in Language and Fluency in Culture in Anthropology Fieldwork in Southern Oman.” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Wales. July 15, 2016.

“‘A Man Was Always Catching Fish’: Fairy Tale Elements in the Ali al-Mahri/ Johnstone/ Rubin Gibali Texts from Southern Oman.” American Comparative Literature Association Conference, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. March 18, 2016.

“Generosity, Gift-giving and Gift-avoiding in Southern Oman.” British Foundation for the Study of Arabia’s Seminar for Arabian Studies, The British Museum, London. July 27, 2014.

research in partnership with other members of the Dhofar University community

“Culinary Examples,” photographs by Salma Hubais as part of the Foodways in Southern Oman project, 2019-2020.

“Fishing Boats,” photographs by Onaiza Shaikh as part of the Fishing Practices in Dhofar project, August-December 2021.