Eight of the UAE's most popular fish species are being eaten to extinction, experts said yesterday as they launched a campaign to persuade consumers to choose less threatened species. Heading the danger list is the hammour, also known as the orange spotted grouper, which features highly on menus across the country. Also under threat are the spangled emperor fish, known in Arabic as shaari, the painted sweetlips or fersh, and the golden trevally or zuraidi.
"We have eight overfished species that are exploited beyond sustainable levels and, of course, the hammour is the most heavily exploited," said Nesreen al Zahlawi, a campaigner with the Emirates Wildlife Society - World Wide Fund for Nature. Numbers of the eight species had already declined on average by 80 per cent or more between 1978 and 2001-2002, when the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) carried out its most detailed survey.
The Choose Wisely campaign wants the eight species taken off restaurant menus, and replaced with more sustainable species from the region. There are four that can be eaten in moderation and another seven that are the most sustainable choices. "Our recommendations are based on scientific assessments done by EAD," Ms al Zahlawi said. "We want to show people that it is possible to cook with something else rather than hammour."
Among the seven most sustainable choices are sordid sweetlips, also known as yanam, as well as the yellow bar angelfish, or anfooz. Both are used in traditional Emirati dishes. Yanam is tasty and affordable. "You can make a delicious dish with each one of the fish in the sustainable list," Ms al Zahlawi said. The campaign may have its work cut out. Hammour is ubiquitous, and many restaurants contacted by The National were unaware of overfishing concerns.
A staff member at the Blues restaurant in Dubai, who asked not to be named, said he had been aware of the issue for a year or two, but the restaurant had not taken any fish off the menu. "The ones I know of are hammour, sigali and red snapper," he said. "There was nothing said by the municipality and no rules have been put forth so we haven't stopped using them. I don't think any rules will be put up in the near future."
Other fish restaurants have taken action. Allen Martin, the manager of Oceans restaurant in Abu Dhabi, said: "I am aware that some fish species are endangered, this is why we do not sell them."
A spokesman for Finz, in the capital, said it had already replaced many of the listed species.
* With additional reporting by Ola Mohamed Salem
Avoid Orange spotted grouper (hammour) Golden trevally (zuraidi) Snubnose emperor (yemah) Spangled emperor (shaari) White-spotted spinefoot (safi arabi) Goldlined seabream (qabit) Kingfish (kanaad) Painted sweetlips (fersh) OK to eat in moderation Black spot snapper (aqalah) King soldier bream (kofar) Longtail silver biddy (badah) Small toothed emperor (souli) Go for it Ehrenbergs' snapper (naiser) Sordid sweetlips (yanam) Pink ear emperor (shaari eshkeli) Yellow bar angelfish (anfooz) Black streaked monocle bream (ebzimi) Two-bar seabream (faskar) Orange spotted trevally (jesh um al hala)