x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Complex picture of fishery protection

Kuwait is considering a two-year ban on fishing in its waters, because fish stocks are falling alarmingly. Such measures are becoming necessary around the world - and time is running out.

In April, the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature launched "Choose Wisely", a campaign designed to reverse the decline of hammour by encouraging fish-lovers to pick less-threatened species on the menu.

And it wasn't just the UAE's most popular fish that was under threat: seven other species were being fished - and eaten - to extinction, the group warned. It is a concern that is common across the Gulf. As The National reports today, Kuwaiti officials are considering a two-year ban on fishing in sovereign waters as local stocks continue to decline at an alarming rate.

It is not just overfishing that is to blame. Last month, the Kuwait Society for Protection of Environment confirmed that local fish are dying in large numbers in part due to a significant rise in sea water temperatures. The statement followed stark satellite imagery showing thousands of dead fish floating in Kuwaiti waters.

The UAE may also have to adopt further safeguards in the future, despite the obvious effect on the fishing industry. The introduction of more clearly defined protected reserves has been shown across the world to be an effective protection that allows species to replenish.

Environmental officials in the UAE have already been experimenting with other initiatives aimed at protecting hammour. For example, a year ago the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) introduced thousands of farmed hammour, also known as orange-spotted grouper, into the ocean in an effort to boost dwindling stocks. Almost 25,000 juvenile hammour, and the same number of another local species, sobaity seabream, were released off the coast of Saadiyat Island.

Admittedly, such a one-off experiment is only a small step and is unlikely to provide a long-term solution. Fish swim - any solution has to involve multinational cooperation, not only to curb poaching in other countries' waters, but also for ecosystem management.

For now, the population of hammour remains close to collapse. Only through better consumer awareness and effective policing of fishing practices can we hope to reverse this trend. But time is running out.