The Abu Dhabi Government is considering new fishing regulations to protect hammour in the emirate's waters. Hammour stocks worth Dh24.2 million (US$88.8m) were fished in Abu Dhabi in 2007, government statistics show. However, the catch is declining and there are no limits on catching juvenile fish. The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) is considering stricter measures than restrictions on fishing introduced in past years.
Dr Thabit Zahran al Abdessalaam, the director of marine biodiversity management sector at EAD, said the kind of mesh used in fish traps would be increased to allow more juveniles to escape. He said the agency was also looking at enlarging Al Yasat marine protected area. The agency is also working on a project that could see aquaculture - large-scale farming of fish and other marine life - promoted as a way of reducing pressure on natural stocks.
EAD is looking for hammour spawning grounds to impose bans on fishing during their reproductive cycle, said Dr al Abdessalaam. A study is to begin early next year. Hammour spawn in April and May. A blanket ban on all fishing during those months is not practicable because that is the most productive fishing time in the year. So any regulation will have to be site-specific, he said. Dr Abdessalaam was speaking at the three-day Regional Symposium on the Biology, Assessment and Management of Groupers, which opened in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Scientists said the fishery needs to be regulated beyond Abu Dhabi. "We do not have a fisheries management body for the whole Gulf like other countries have," said Dr Mohsen al Husaini, a research scientist at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. "We need a very powerful commission. We need political will from the leaders of these countries." Others shared the opinion. "Fisheries are under siege from fleet expansions and increased vessel-fishing power that have resulted in the over-exploitation of a substantial component of our fisheries resources," Dr Abdessalaam said. "Furthermore, the advent of a modern way of life and a growing tourism industry has augmented the use of fisheries and marine resources for recreation."
Environment Abu Dhabi statistics show that in 2007, the total catch in the emirate was 5,337 tonnes, with metal traps known as gargour being the equipment of choice for fishermen. The wholesale value of fish landed in Abu Dhabi was Dh63.2 million. The largest individual species catch was of hammour, worth Dh24.2 million. Scientists measure the health of a marine species by a system called the spawning stock biomass, which refers to the percentage of fish in a whole stock which are old enough to reproduce. A healthy level is 20 per cent.
A study carried out in 2001-2002 showed that for the hammour, the figure was only 1.9 per cent. Data from 2005-2006 showed a slight increase to three per cent. The improvement is a result of measures introduced by EAD which include changes in the mesh size of the gargour and an introduction of an escape panel allowing trapped fish to escape from discarded gargour. In addition, the amount of fishing licences in the emirate was curbed to 1,100, while only traditional wooden abras, rather then faster-moving speed boats, have been allowed to fish with gargour.