x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

When it comes to UAE seafood, choose sustainability

One little word put a bit of a downer on our dinner at a restaurant. Proudly displayed, with its own "local fish" subtitle, was a dish featuring hammour.

A week or so ago, I went out for dinner with a friend. I was really enjoying myself and enjoying the restaurant, until we settled down to the serious business of deciding what we would be eating. And then one little word put a bit of a downer on the evening. Proudly displayed, with its own "local fish" subtitle, was a dish featuring hammour.

The fact that hammour (orange spotted grouper) is endangered, thanks to overconsumption, has been well documented in the local media for the past few years. According to the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS), it is being "fished at over seven times the sustainable level" and yet it continues to feature on countless restaurant menus and is all too easy to buy at the supermarket. I recently received an email championing a menu dedicated to sustainable fish, only to open the attachment and see that it featured hammour in at least two dishes.

While initiatives like the weekly farmer's market held at Souq Al Bahr in Dubai and the RIPE organic markets in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are doing wonders for raising awareness about the benefits of eating local, when it comes to fish, we can't just make the assumption that this applies to all species, regardless.

EWS statistics tell us: "Since 1978, there has been an overall decline of 80 per cent in the average stock size for all commercial species [of fish] in the country," and while hammour has been the major casualty, shaari (spangled emperor), fersh (painted sweetlips) and kanaad (kingfish) are all heavily overfished. Yanam (sordid sweetlips), faskar (two bar seabream) and jesh um al hala (orange spotted trevally) meanwhile are all abundant enough to be eaten with feeling guilty.

All those names sound a little confusing though, which is where a handy little booklet produced by the EWS in association with the World Wide Fund for Nature comes into its own. The pocket-sized guide categorises local fish according to their sustainability level, with red signalling "think again", orange "good choice but there's better" and green "go for it".

I'm told that you can pick the guides up at various supermarkets, but have yet to spot one myself. They are, however, free to download from the EWS website (www.choosewisely.ae), where, once you register, you can also find a number of recipes from members of the public using sustainable fish. These were collated into a cookbook last year.

At a recent event, I was told by one of the EWS representatives that another cookbook, featuring recipes created by chefs in the region, was also in the pipeline. So really, there's no excuse for not looking beyond hammour, regardless of whether we're cooking at home or eating in restaurants.


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