x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bad fishing practices blamed for thousands of tuna deaths off Dubai

Thousands of dead tuna have been found floating in Dubai waters - the result of irresponsible fishing, experts say.

Most of the catch by UAE fishermen is sold at dockside auctions by traders who then pass it on to local markets and processing plants. Above, the fish market in Deira.
Most of the catch by UAE fishermen is sold at dockside auctions by traders who then pass it on to local markets and processing plants. Above, the fish market in Deira.

DUBAI // Thousands of dead tuna found floating in Dubai waters were probably the result of irresponsible fishing, experts say.

About 3,000 tuna carcasses were last Thursday found by fishermen 18 nautical miles west of Dubai in an area known as Boya Zahra.

"This kind of tuna is available in the Arabian Gulf," explained Mohammed Al Marri, the chairman of the Dubai Fishermen's Cooperative Association.

"It is coming by the millions but we don't have to destroy it. If we do not like to eat it, why kill it? It is life."

Mr Al Marri was speaking ahead of a meeting with the Ministry of Environment and Water scheduled for tomorrow, where the association will discuss how to further regulate catches, nets used and stronger enforcement for recreational fishers.

"We must control how many fish can be caught and the kind of fishing nets that are used," he said.

Fishermen are believed to have trapped more tuna than their nets could hold and delayed their release into the sea, killing them.

Mr Al Marri, also the head of the Dubai Police community service department, said some fishermen - about five from Dubai and two from Sharjah - were using improper fishing techniques and needed to be educated.

"They were not fishing right," he said. "When there are too many fish they should keep the nets open. When there is more than what the nets can take, the fishes will die in them."

The Ministry of Environment and Water also suspects irresponsible fishing practices caused the deaths. The tuna were thrown back after being caught, the ministry said.

"Upon dissecting and analysing their entrails and the water, no traces of chemical or red tide-related pollution were revealed in the seawater and no traces of microbic pollution were found in the fish," the ministry said.

"Abusive, random and irresponsible fishing methods could be responsible for the death of these fish."

The dead fish were from a species of tuna known locally as sada. They grow up to a length of 70 centimetres and weigh close to three kilograms.

"Although they are in demand among consumers their economic value is negligible. They are migrant fish and are sold at low prices," the ministry said.

Mr Al Marri said that, with its red meat, the species might not be popular with local people who preferred lighter meat, but it was sought by other nationalities for sushi and sashimi.

"For other nationalities, it is one of the best fish," he said. "Here the normal price is between Dh70 to Dh80 per kilo."

UAE waters are home to about 280 fish species, including commercially important migratory species such as kingfish, tuna and Indian mackerel, said the wildlife filmmaker Jonathan Ali Khan.

Mr Khan said the fish began arriving in local waters in November and would stay until the end of May.

He said a good day's catch at the height of the season could bring in Dh250,000 worth of fish.

Mr Khan said that considering how lucrative tuna catches were, he found it hard to believe that local boats caused the damage.

"Everyone knows everyone within their community and pretty much every boat has at least one mobile phone through which they could have called for additional boats to join them - even at night," he said.

"Since our waters are shared by neighbouring countries, we have to consider that maybe foreign boats are crossing into UAE waters to fish at night.

"In this case, it appears as if the balance of the catch might simply have been abandoned for some reason. Whether their boat's storing capacity was overfilled or they just could not cope with the volume in bad weather, the wastage is enormous."

While Oman and Iran allow the use of trawlers, including licensed foreign vessels with a local partner, the UAE allows only artisanal and traditional fishing boats to operate.

Most of their catch is sold fresh at dockside auctions where it is bought by traders who then sell it to local markets and processing plants.

"If this waste was caused by local boats, in my opinion this scale of wasted fish resources should be considered a criminal offence and someone needs to be held accountable," Mr Khan said.

"The authorities should look into this further and pull out all the stops to track down who is responsible. They need to contact all the UAE main landing sites to enquire whether large numbers of tuna have been offloaded during the last 48 hours."

pkannan@thenational.ae

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