The daily shark catch at Dubai Fish Market in Deira is being unloaded from truck for an auctions. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Faced with declining shark stocks in Gulf waters, the UAE is moving to further protect up to 43 shark species and 29 ray species from continued over harvesting with an action plan.

Shark populations have been in decline for years due to overfishing, said the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in a statement on Monday while announcing a new conservation plan to bolster and protect existing fish stocks over the next four years.

“Shark populations in the country have witnessed a decline in recent years as a result of over-fishing, mainly due to the high value of their fins, meat, and gill plates,” said the ministry in a statement.

“At present, there are 43 shark species and 29 ray species recorded in the UAE’s waters, with 42 per cent of these considered endangered as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.”

Shark finning — the illegal cutting off of fins and returning sharks to the water still alive — in the UAE is illegal but commercial fishermen are allowed to catch sharks whole and sell the entire shark at fish markets in the country.

Under the watch of the UAE environment ministry, shark finning was declared illegal in 2011 in the UAE and of the estimated 2,000 metric tonnes of sharks caught annually in recent years in UAE waters, only 60 metric tonnes are estimated to comprise shark fins.

In February 2014, seven Arab countries including the UAE signed an international agreement in Dubai to protect migrating sharks in Middle East waters from illegal trade.

On Monday, meanwhile, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment launched its ‘National Plan of Action (NPOA) for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2018-2021’ that presents concrete steps to promote shark conservation and sustainability in the UAE.

The plan, the ministry said, ”has four main objectives: enhancing knowledge of shark species and their role in the ecosystem among the population, implementing effective policy, legislation and enforcement mechanisms and developing a national, regional and global cooperation framework, enabling effective conservation through capacity building, and running educational and outreach programs to raise public awareness.”

The action plan will also drill into causes of shark stock declines, the ministry said, ranging from commercial and recreational fishing, pollution, coastal development, habitat alteration, and climate change.

Hiba Al Shehhi, acting Director of the Biodiversity Department at the ministry, said in a statement that the “NPOA is part of the ministry’s strategy to preserve the UAE’s biodiversity, and ensure the long-term survival of sharks and rays.”

The ministry will focus on shark community awareness, shark population numbers, improved management of marine protected areas, and extinction risk faced by individual shark species, she said.

The ministry has also issued what it calls the UAE Shark Assessment Report, a national overview of shark research and protective measures in the UAE. The document offers a valuable database that will support the execution of the plan.

Following its four-year implementation (2018-2021) timeline, NPOA will undergo a consultative revision to enable an adaptive management approach and ensure the attainment of its strategic objectives and overall vision. The plan is available to the public on the ministry’s website.