x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Keeping fish on the menu takes action

To avoid the day when our favourite marine meals are off the menu, consumers and regulators need to take action.

When it comes to certain fish species, diners and shoppers in the UAE are loving their dinner to death. To avoid the day when our favourite marine meals are off the menu, consumers and regulators need to take action.

This week, the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi announced that catches of the eight most popular species in the country (including hammour, farsh and shaari) are subjected to fishing pressure six times greater than is sustainable, meaning they are being caught at a faster rate than they can reproduce. Since 1978, the total decline of some species is close to 95 per cent.

Rapid declines in fish stocks might not create universal ire - here or anywhere. But anyone who considers fish part of a healthy diet will have reason to care, as will those employed by the industry. Without better management or consumption restrictions, some of the region's most loved species could very well vanish.

Cod stocks in Canada offer a sobering example of how poor policies can kill a natural resource. In the early 1990s the cod fishery collapsed due to mismanagement and over-fishing; tens of thousands lost their jobs. In most places the stocks have never recovered. Industry pressure and powerful lobbying groups - which led to government inaction - are largely to blame.

Avoiding similar fates has been a rallying cry for other fisheries around the world. Which brings us back to hammour.

As a first step, the Government in the UAE could do more to penalise and monitor illegal fishing operations in the Gulf, both on the water and at the docks. Vulnerable and endangered species will not recover unless fewer fish are taken, and markets and restaurants are encouraged to scale back their offerings of vulnerable species.

Here, too, consumers have a responsibility. Only 27 per cent of residents are aware that over-fishing is a problem in the UAE. Campaigns must highlight the trend's implications for the environment and biodiversity but also on fisheries, food sources and the economy in general.

There is a reason why popular species are suffering, and that's because they taste good. But too much of a good thing has its consequences.