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Enforce the rules to protect fish stocks in UAE

Abu Dhabi has taken a small step to protect stocks of one species of fish. More needs to be done.

People in the UAE like their seafood: at 33 kilograms per capita per year, we lead the region in consumption of fish and shellfish. This is good news nutritionally, but a cause for concern in another sense: several popular fish species - hammour, farsh and shaari, for example - are being caught more rapidly than they can reproduce.

The result can only be dwindling stocks. The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi has recorded a 95 per cent decline in the UAE's catch of certain species since 1978.

Now Abu Dhabi has taken a small step in the right direction, in an effort to protect stocks of one species. The Ministry of Environment and Water has announced a two-month ban on Al Badah, a popular food fish. The ban, from April 1 to June 1, is intended to protect the species during the most crucial part of its spawning season, which actually extends into August.

Al Badah is not a major food fish, but the ban is nonetheless a serious, practical measure to protect stocks and therefore the livelihood of fishermen and this valuable local sustainable food source. More such measures will be needed.

This is not a problem for the UAE alone, nor in Gulf waters alone. Around the world rapacious international companies use the newest technology to fill the holds of their trawlers. National and international regulation is slow to keep up, and even when solid rules are in place, they are too often circumvented or ignored by the unscrupulous. In the vast lonely oceans of the world, enforcement is often just a theory.

The 2008 law banning shark fishing off the UAE's coast in the first four months of each year, for example, is frequently ignored. Environment Agency statistics show that more than half of total 2012 shark landings at Abu Dhabi Freeport occurred in the first four months of the year.

With other species, meanwhile, experts say many traders mix fish caught locally, in defiance of a ban, in with legal imported inventory, to avoid facing the consequences.

Clearly, this country, the region, and the world need strict enforcement of sensible rules, through close monitoring of the market, along with increased regional and global diplomatic efforts to make sure the world's fish are shared fairly and sustainably.

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