WAM AD FISH-1647936983205
Stocks of hamour, qabit and other commercially traded fish increased significantly in Abu Dhabi waters in 2021. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: Stocks of hamour, qabit and other commercially traded fish increased significantly in Abu Dhabi waters in 2021, making the emirate’s fisheries about eight times more sustainable in a three-year period.

In a statement, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) said it had recorded a “remarkable improvement in the state of fish stocks during 2021 for some of the main commercial fish species in the waters of Abu Dhabi”.

Increasing sustainability

Combined with a series of conservation measures, this caused an increase in the fisheries’ measure of sustainability — the Sustainable Exploitation Index — for the third year in a row. According to EAD, the index increased for the third year in a row in 2021, rising from 8.9 per cent in 2018 to 62.3 per cent in 2021.

“[The EAD, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, and their stakeholders] have made comprehensive efforts to protect fish stocks, preserve the marine environment and its natural resources and achieve sustainability in this sector. We must preserve the fishing heritage passed on from our ancestors for our future generations, so that they can enjoy the goodness of our land and our cultural and natural heritage,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra and chairman of the EAD board of directors.

Recovery by 2030

“Due to the over-exploitation of fisheries and their severe depletion, the fishing sector in the emirate of Abu Dhabi was under pressure, which led to the reduction of stocks of the main commercial species to unsustainable levels, according to international benchmarks. This required the implementation of a set of international procedures and standards for the management of fisheries in Abu Dhabi, which today, has succeeded in achieving remarkable results. The measures taken by EAD in response to population growth and the growing demand for fish, which has led to increased pressures on fish resources, will contribute to enabling fish stocks to recover on the long run, allowing at least 70 per cent of our fisheries resources to recover sustainably by 2030,” he added.

Fish species

According to EAD, the percentage of the average mature stock of badah (Gerres longirostris) increased from 40 per cent in 2015 to 62.5 per cent in 2021, while the percentage of hamour (orange-spotted grouper) increased from 15.8 per cent in 2020 to 20.5 per cent in 2021. The percentage of qabit (Rhabdosargus sarba) also increased from 18.8 per cent in 2018 to 26.9 per cent in 2021. The percentage of mature stock of aqalah (Lutjanus fulviflamma) increased from 64.8 per cent in 2014 to 67.8 per cent in 2021, and the percentage of naiser (Lutjanus ehrenbergii), increased from 35.8 per cent in 2018 to 48.5 per cent in 2021.

As a result of the recent demand for fishing for other commercial species, during 2021, EAD included haqool and aifah for the first time in the fish stock assessment study. The results showed that the stock of these fish was within the limits of sustainable exploitation.

It is expected that these indicators will rise in the coming years if the existing measures continue. This includes the ban on gargoor fishing methods, which mainly helps preserve three species — hamour, shaari (spangled emperor) and farsh (painted sweetlips), as well as the decision to prevent fishing using encircling nets.

In fact, in 2021, the EAD recorded the highest maximum length recorded for hamour in 20 years in Abu Dhabi waters, with a hamour measuring 113 centimetres.

Various measures

“Based on detailed evaluations and scientific studies of fish resources conducted by us at EAD, and other relevant authorities throughout the years, a system of globally acceptable methods for managing the fish stock has been created and implemented in collaboration with our partners. These efforts resulted in the establishment of several marine reserves, the introduction and implementation of a system for licensing commercial and recreational fisheries, and the regulation of fishing equipment use. This is in addition to implementing a seasonal ban to protect fish during their breeding seasons and setting a minimum size of fish that can be caught for some major species, as well as the prohibition of unsustainable fishing methods,” explained Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD secretary general.

Measuring sustainability

Since 2001, EAD has been monitoring the state of fish stocks according to two basic indicators of sustainability, the first of which is the ‘Spawning Biomass per Recruit’ (SBR), index, which is the percentage of the fish that are old enough to spawn, allowing for the renewal of the stock. The index assessed 30 key species, which represented 96.8 per cent of the total commercial catch in the emirate of Abu Dhabi during the year 2021. The second indicator is the ‘Sustainable Exploitation Index’ used to describe the proportion of species that are sustainably exploited.

Read more

Total of 32 species evaluated

“Concerning the Sustainable Exploitation Index, the EAD’s data revealed a noticeable increase in a short period of time from the implementation of fishing-related measures and procedures, reaching 62.3 per cent at the end of 2021. The indicator was calculated in 2021 by evaluating a total of 32 species which represented 98.6 per cent of landings in 2021,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

She added that there has also been an improvement in the percentage of SBR, which determines the proportion of the stock volume of 30 main commercial species, compared to the volume of their untapped stock. The index was calculated in 2021 by analysing a total of 30 fish species, which represented 96.8 per cent of 2021 landings. Progress was also monitored towards increasing the average stock size from 8.1 per cent in 2019 to 34 per cent in 2021.