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Enforcement vital to protect sharks in UAE waters

Determined and concerted efforts are needed to protect sharks in the UAE waters.

In March the UAE, along with the 177 other countries that cooperate to protect endangered species, added five species of shark to the list of creatures given worldwide protection from human predators.

The member governments of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) decreed that the five types of shark may no longer be traded internationally.

Of the five, three - smooth, great and scalloped hammerheads - are found in the UAE's waters. The three kinds of hammerhead that are caught here are all highly at risk when there is overfishing, because they are slow-growing and produce few young.

Promising to protect these species was a proud step forward in marine conservation for this country. But now the promise must be kept, and that will not be as simple. Legislation or regulations will have to be changed, and then enforced properly and incessantly.

Around the world, fish stocks are dwindling at an alarming rate, precisely because enforcement is neither uniform nor consistent.

The UAE is a major transit point for shark products; only four countries ship more shark fin to Hong Kong, the world's trade hub for this controversial commodity. Most of those exports move through the UAE, originating in nearby countries such as Oman and Yemen.

And enforcement is shaky at best, it appears. At a shark-conservation conference in Dubai last year, doctoral student Rima Jabado reported findings suggesting that the 2008 law banning most shark fishing off the UAE's coast for the first four months of each year is frequently ignored and hardly enforced. In fact, more than half of total shark landings at Abu Dhabi Freeport in 2012 occurred in the first four months of the year, according to experts who track the statistics.

These figures suggest that determined, concrete actions are needed to translate good intentions into actual conservation measures.

Traders and retailers, even if they understand the danger to stocks, are understandably reluctant to forego income, especially if they see others continuing to profit from supposedly-banned trade.

As with ivory on land, a well-administered system of international licensing could help resolve the competition between commerce and conservation. But marine sustainability is a collective responsibility, which no country can meet without tough enforcement.

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