x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Shark attack

Overfishing of certain shark species is painfully obvious during a visit to Deira Fish Market.

The first sharks date back nearly 420 million years, veritable minnows when compared to oceanic predators such as Pliosaurs, which could measure up to 15 metres. But in the intervening aeon, the species evolved into an apex predator - until the last few centuries that is, a mere blip in terms of geological time, when a land-based biped dethroned the king of the sea.

Humans now threaten the very existence of some shark species. As The National reports today, the population of hammerheads in the Mediterranean has fallen to just 0.01 per cent of former levels. Anyone who has watched Jaws one too many times will have a twinge when jumping into the water, but the truth is that sharks have far more to fear from us.

The Arabian Gulf is a natural nursery for pelagic fish and oceanic mammals. Lacking regional coordination and fisheries protection, there is a real risk of hunting some species to extinction, as a four-day conference in Dubai, the Arabian Shark Conservation Workshop, is quick to recognise.

Next year, three species of hammerhead sharks may be listed as endangered under Cites, the international treaty on wildlife protection. That listing could be crucial, but so is enforcing the fishing bans that make these treaties effective. All three species are sold at the Deira Fish Market. So too are juvenile blacktip sharks, protected, in theory, until they reach maturity.