Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 October 2019

We are all custodians of the world’s waters

Reports show that the Gulf's marine life is in grave peril. Now is the time for action

Baskets of fresh caught hammour, sherry and zeradi fish are brought in to Dalma Island. Amy Leang/The National
Baskets of fresh caught hammour, sherry and zeradi fish are brought in to Dalma Island. Amy Leang/The National

Unless we encounter them on a plate, for most of us the myriad species of fish to be found in the waters of the Gulf are out of sight and out of mind. That’s an attitude that must change if dozens of once-common species are to be saved from extinction. Over the past year, a series of studies have revealed that a number of factors, from coastal development and increasing salinity to rising water temperatures and over-fishing, are playing havoc with the balance of marine life in the Gulf.

The latest study, the Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, reveals that three of the most commonly eaten species of fish have been all but wiped out. Direct blame for the perilous position of the “severely overexploited” sheri (rabbit fish) hammour (grouper) and farsh (painted sweetlips) is laid at the door of the country’s fishermen, accused of over-zealous and illegal fishing practices. Laws are in place to curb over-fishing, including a ban on catching fish during breeding season and strictures on the type and size of nets, but clearly these aren’t sufficiently effective – a snap inspection in Abu Dhabi last year found 70 per cent of nets were illegal. Tough laws must be stringently enforced.

Better education of fishermen must also play a part. A socioeconomic study by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, examining the practices and ecological understanding of hundreds of boat owners and crews, is a step in the right direction. But fishermen, pursuing an honourable trade that their forefathers practised for generations before them, are not solely accountable for this conservation emergency. In targeting certain species, they are merely responding to demand.

As anyone who has paid a pre-dawn visit to Abu Dhabi’s Al Mina fish market or the new Waterfront Market in Dubai knows, the Gulf is full of alternative species. It is up to us, as consumers, to demand other options. Hotels and restaurants should use their culinary expertise to entice customers to try new species. Indeed, as taste leaders, they should commit to using only sustainable fish. The sea and its bounty is, as it has always been, a vital resource for the UAE.

In the years before oil, fishing was the key to a tough but sustainable existence. Today the waters of the Gulf remain a vital source of food for the UAE. It is everyone’s business to ensure that it is nurtured, not only to preserve a vital resource and the livelihoods of the UAE’s fishermen, but to meet our responsibilities as guardians of the environment for future generations.

Updated: January 28, 2019 06:58 PM

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