DUBAI // Fishermen, traders, supermarkets, malls and hotels face hefty fines, or, in some cases, even closure, if they sell any of 14 species of fish deemed to be under-sized.
The “Development and Sustainability of Live Aquatic Wealth” campaign aims to prevent the decline of fish stock and curb illegal and harmful fishing practices.
“We want to ensure security of the fish,” said Khalid Sharif, director of the food control department at Dubai Municipality.
“We will create awareness on what sizes should be sold. We want to protect the environment. We will seize [fish] and fine people,” he added.
Dubai Municipality inspectors will initially issue fines of Dh1,000 on errant fishermen and traders.
“The fine will be doubled and then tripled if they repeat the offence. Eventually, the fish stall will be closed,” said Adnan Al Jallaf, head of the animal products monitoring section at the municipality’s food control department.
Young king fish, hamour, gish and pomfret are among the varieties the municipality hopes to protect.
The launch of the campaign comes just weeks after irresponsible fishing led to the death of thousands of tuna fish, 18 nautical miles west of Dubai in an area known as Boya Zahra.
The municipality said its crackdown was a result of finding several premature, small fish in markets and restaurants. Officials have stipulated a minimum length of 17cm to 45cm, depending on the species.
Existing federal laws already prohibit fishing and selling of certain species of small fish, but the drive is expected to improve compliance. It will be implemented in the entire country and will continue until the end of the year.
Darren Hilz, the project manager of sustainable fisheries at the Emirates Wildlife Society in Dubai, applauded the municipality’s campaign, but said more must be done to protect “juvenile” fish.
“Avoiding catching juveniles gives fish a chance to replenish and rebuild a sustainable fishery with healthy stock levels,” Mr Hilz said. “While campaigns are a very important part of the solution, they should be complemented by a number of other measures to ensure sustainable management of our fisheries.
“The use of gear modifications on fish traps [gargoors] have been studied and implemented by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi since 2003 to limit the amount of undersized fish being caught in Abu Dhabi.
“This is a great example, which, if implemented across the Emirates, can help to promote sustainable fisheries.”
Saif Mohammed Al Shara, the assistant undersecretary of the water resources and nature conservation sector of the Ministry of Environment and Water (Moe), said his ministry will prepare a final report at the end of the campaign in December.
He said fish stock was a “national treasure” and an important food resource.
Mr Al Jallaf conceded it was difficult to monitor individual fishermen, but said inspectors would conduct checks at fish markets.
“We will be there to see who is catching small fish. They will be fined and the fish will be confiscated. While fishing, if they are found to be small, they should be returned to the sea,” he said, adding traders and fishermen in other emirates will also have to begin adhering to the laws.
His department, along with the Moe, will raise awareness among hotels, supermarkets and also hold talks with the fishermen’s association.
But stopping the sale of small fish was only addressing a part of the problem, fishermen said.
“It is a business,” said Mohammed Al Marri, the chairman of the Dubai Fishermen’s Cooperative Association.
“To stop it means taking away livelihoods. Fishermen will be upset. To put rules, we must sit with different departments and discuss it. It is not an easy solution but it can be slowly stopped,” he said.
Mr Al Marri said the existing laws were “not effective” to curtail the practice.
“It will be effective only if we are sitting together. Who will control the pleasure boats? There are 3,000 pleasure boats registered with the ministry. Buyers should also refuse to buy small fish,” he said, adding that demand was fuelling supply.
Some fishermen said they already avoided netting tiny fish to secure their own livelihoods.
“We don’t catch small hamouror shairy,” said an Indian fisherman, who asked not to be named.
“These fishes have chances of growing bigger. We would rather wait,” he said, but added that the municipality’s warning was also having an impact.
“People are scared that they will be fined. Inspectors are at the markets watching traders. Besides, there are no buyers now. So, many fishermen have stopped catching small fishes.”
Another fisherman said small fish were difficult to trap.
“Small fish escape from our nets,” said Riyas, an Indian fisherman who would not give his full name. “It is easier to net the big ones. However, there is a huge demand for the small fish as it is used in several Indian and Arabic delicacies.”
A restaurant yesterday welcomed the move.
“People should follow the rule and not catch small fish,” said Abdul Karim, the owner of Hot Fish Restaurant in Karama.
“Usually, fishermen in Jumeirah areas do not catch small fish. However, it is difficult to determine the size while fishing. But, if they are not dead, they should be put back into the sea.”
* With additional reporting from Caline Malek