Abu Dhabi: A national framework for sustainable fisheries, which was launched on Wednesday, envisages several measures to conserve and replenish fish stock, including rehabilitation of marine habitats through the installation of artificial reefs as protected areas.

The UAE National Framework for Sustainable Fisheries 2019-2030 has also recommended the development of robust aquaculture research and programmes to support fish stock improvement and the implementation of management measures that will reduce pressure on fish stocks from the commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

The framework’s 2030 timespan reflects the period fisheries will take to recover after adopting the appropriate measures. This benchmark is consistent with the global recovery rates of around 12 years, said a press release.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) on Wednesday unveiled the framework - the country’s first national recovery plan for fisheries - at the World Ocean Summit 2019 that is currently under way in Abu Dhabi.

The strategic action plan – slated for execution by 2030 – seeks to mitigate the effects of overfishing and establish an environmentally sustainable, economically viable and socially responsible fishing sector in the UAE.

Speaking on the framework, Dr Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “At present, we are facing a twofold challenge – first, we are working to sustain our fisheries and allow them to replenish. At the same time, we have the responsibility of meeting the growing market demand for fish. The framework will help us strike a balance between the two priorities.

“This monumental step for our nation will enable us to preserve our long-standing fishing tradition for years to come,” he added.

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Daheri, Acting Secretary General of the EAD, said: “Today marks a watershed in the protection and preservation of our marine environment and resources. Building on the vital insights we have gained from the UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme, the UAE National Framework for Sustainable Fisheries will pave the way for collective and targeted action to conserve an ecosystem that has been and will remain an essential pillar of the past, present and future development of our nation.”

In line with global trends, the UAE fisheries sector is under pressure due to factors such as the rising demand for fish triggered by a rapidly growing population, as well as the loss and degradation of key habitats and marine water quality due to coastal development, cumulative desalination activities, pollution and climate change.

UAE witnesses dwindling fish stock

The UAE National Framework for Sustainable Fisheries was developed in response to the results of the 2018 Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey (FRAS) and insights from over 300 members of the UAE fishing community.

The findings revealed that the country’s fish stocks are severely depleted due to overcapacity of the commercial and recreational fishing sectors. Specifically, three demersal indicator species – hamour (orange-spotted grouper), shaari (spangled emperor) and farsh (painted sweetlips) – have witnessed a significant decline to 10 per cent of their adult (reproductive) stock size and are overexploited by up to five times the sustainable limit. This is well below the 30 per cent target set by the framework, as well as the minimum threshold that international standards prescribe for sustainable fish stocks.

Three separate climate change studies by EAD and the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI) have predicted a 26 per cent decline in fish catch by 2090. Illegal fishing, use of banned fishing gear, catching of prohibited species, violation of size limits, as well as unreported significant catch through recreational fishing are all adversely impacting the country’s fish stocks.