Dubai: Mohammad Tabish, fisheries specialist with the Ministry of Water and Environment, says as top predator, sharks must be protected through stringent regulations placed upon the commercial fishing industry in the UAE.
Speaking at the Shark Conservation in Arabia Workshop, Tabish said the UAE is meeting the call for protection through detailed legal measures designed to ensure that the Gulf’s apex predator is here for future generations to enjoy.
“Sharks are one of the most important fish species in the UAE,” Tabish told dozens of marine scientists and government fisheries delegates from across the region and beyond.
The shark harvest, he said, is “commercially important because of its value nowadays mainly due to its fins... in the UAE, fishing of sharks is not a bigger concern than the re-export of shark fins.”
Given that hard data regarding native shark populations in UAE Gulf waters is not readily available, Tabish said it is hard to give a precise outline on the impact of shark fishing and whether the fishing industry is exacting a balanced toll until firmer scientific stock data is confirmed.
The number of sharks caught in 2011 is roughly 20,000 metric tonnes, he said.
But UAE measures such as a January to April ban on fishing sharks and strict regulations spelling out which equipment must be used for shark fishing is keeping the industry in check, he said.
“Due to lack of stock assessment studies and species specific data, it is still premature to say that sharks are overfished. But, yes, fishing does exist,” Tabish said.
Dr Ralf P Sonntag, German country director of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told Gulf News that he was grateful for environment ministry cooperation and said that this week’s four-day conference is all about creating awareness and cooperation between marine scientists and government officials.
“It is encouraging to see how much effort the Ministry of Environment and Water is putting in,” said Sonntag, adding that a Gulf News investigative look at the shark problem in June helped conference organisers address the issue.
Dr Elsayed Ahmad A Mohammad, regional director for Middle East and North Africa of IFAW, said he was pleased to see public awareness of shark finning growing in the region as governments work harder to address shark conservation.
“The way is opening now in GCC countries to make sharks a priority,” he said.
Coordination is needed between regional countries to create blanket protection for sharks, he said, noting that sharks migrate sometimes across large distances making it dangerous if they leave protected zones only to be hunted in unsafe waters.
The Shark Conservation in Arabia Workshop, sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Sharkquest Arabia as well as the Ministry of Environment and Water, was held over four days this week.
Sharks Landed 2006-2010 UAE
Problems faced by UAE fishery managers:
Where data catch are collected, it is predominantly in generic shark categories and species-specific data is lacking
Data on discards of sharks are not even less frequently collected
Trade statistics are limited and again not species specific
Species specific data data on shark fishing and finning in UAE needs to be more thorough to arrive at any substantial assessment on the issue.
The Ministry of Environment and Water updated its ministerial decision 542 of 2008 with its new ministerial decision 216 in 2011 to further protect sharks and to prohibit finning. The new measures include:
Only launch styled vessels can be used to capture sharks in UAE waters
Vessels must be licensed by the ministry
Fishing capture limited to using only hooks style 1 and 2 and hooks must not exc eed 100 per vessel
Shark capture is prohibited from January to end of April during shark breeding season
Capture of whale sharks and saw fishes prohibited
Under federal law, sharks are protected under several provisions of legislation originally introduced in 1999:
Article 23: It is illegal to conduct fishing operations using banned fishing gear or equipment
Article 24: Fishing is impermissible during fertilisation or breeding season (January to April)
Article 26: It is prohibited to fishing for sharks using trawling nets, bottom nets, nylon or drift nets
Article 34: It is prohibited to use explosives, crackers or materials that are harmful, toxic or anaesthetic to aquatics
Article 44: It is forbidden to catch living aquatic creatures to extract their eggs, skins, fins and any other parts (catch must be landed wholly at fish markets).
Article 44: It is forbidden to throw the dead fish waste and carcasses of whales and sharks into the water.
Source: Ministry of Environment and Water