x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New ban on huge nets to preserve fish stocks in the UAE

The dhagwa, huge nets cast from shore, will be banned from the beginning of March until the end of April. Attaching extra nets to the dhagwa is no longer allowed at any time of year.

ABU DHABI // A seasonal ban on traditional dhagwa nets is among a raft of new rules to protect dwindling fish stocks.

The nationwide restrictions apply mainly to the use of different types of nets by commercial fishermen.

The dhagwa, huge nets cast from shore, will be banned from the beginning of March until the end of April. Attaching extra nets to the dhagwa is no longer allowed at any time of year.

Al halaq, or encircling nets, which are particularly effective at catching Spanish mackerel, will be allowed only between October 15 and April 30. In Abu Dhabi, they have been banned throughout the year since 2007.

Fishermen will also have to choose between using nets or metal cages, commonly known as gargoor, as the Ministry of Environment will license them only for one or the other.

Some of the new requirements have already been put into use,.

"The difference is that some of the specifications and duration of fishing are changed," said Sultan Bin Alwan of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

"These changes were necessary to control the current exploitation of fisheries by nets and to stop the harmful fishing practices applied while using these type of nets.

"Some harmful fishing practices were destroying the habitat as well as the fish stocks."

The major concerns were catch of non-target species, undersized fish, catching more than the sustainable capacity, catching other mammals, destruction of habitats and the dumping of nets, Mr Bin Alwan said.

The ministry said it had consulted fishermen before introducing the new rules.

Local authorities, the coastguard, and fishermen's cooperative societies will all play a role in ensuring the industry complies.

Mr Bin Alwan said the new decree "will have considerable positive effect in the reduction of harmful fishing practices and conservation of fisheries stocks".

The ministry stopped issuing new fishing licences this year and capped the number of fishing boats at 6,700.

An increasing demand for fish has already had a serious impact on most of the commercially exploited species. Fishing stocks along the east coast have declined by two-thirds in nine years.

In 2002 fish stocks were estimated at 1,735kg per square kilometre. By 2011 they had dropped to 529kg per square kilometre. In 1975, stocks were estimated at 9,100kg per square kilometre.

The pressure is especially significant on commercially important species such as the orange-spotted grouper, popularly known as hammour.

The hammour and seven other popular species declined by an of average 80 per cent between 1978 and 2002. This means that most of the fish being caught and offered for sale to consumers are too young to have had a chance to reproduce.

vtodorova@thenational.ae