Muscat: Oman has declared a two-year moratorium on the harvest, sale, and export of abalone — a shellfish that commands top dollar in the markets of the Far East.
The moratorium, announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on Wednesday, is aimed at rebuilding abalone stocks after studies pointed to an alarming decline in their numbers.
Many local fishermen in the south of the country depend on abalone fishing for their livelihood.
The ministry justified the ban saying that it was intended to encourage the reproduction of abalone as well as to limit it fishing.
Last year, the highly awaited abalone season kicked off in December, for only 12 days. Abalone is considered the most expensive seafood in Oman. Abalone fishing was also banned in 2015.
The fishermen hauled in 37,455 tonnes of abalone in 2016, worth 1.9 million Omani riyals.
Hong Kong is the number one importer of Omani abalone. The price of one kilo ranges between 45 riyals to 70 riyals, and one plate served at restaurants in South East Asia could cost more than $120 (Dh440).
The popularity is partially based on what are believed to be the health benefits of the abalone species. When abalone is cooked, it produces Omega-3 fatty acid, which is essential to the human diet.
Due to previous overfishing, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MoAF) has had to put into place some drastic fishing restrictions and had reduced the period to only 12 days in 2014, compared to 20 days in 2012, in an attempt to save stocks from depletion. The ministry also banned abalone fishing for three years from 2008 to 2010.
According to the ministerial decision 302/2014, the use of artificial lighting of all types as well as fishing tools is prohibited while fishing for abalone. The ministry also prohibits diving for abalone from sunset to sunrise.
A study commissioned by the ministry has since found that unsustainable fishing practices and other environmental factors have contributed to the sharp deterioration of the habitat that supports the shellfish.