Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Fisherman under investigation after catching 350kg bull shark

Three-metre pregnant fish is caught in Fujairah during the fishing ban

A fisherman who caught a 350kg bull shark off the coast of Fujairah is under investigation by authorities.

Eid Suleiman, 50, hunted down the apex predator — well-known for its aggressive behaviour — after colleagues claimed it was eating their catch.

Luring it close to his boat with live bait, and using a traditional hand line, he successfully hooked the shark and reeled it in after a two-hour battle.

But when officials heard about the catch, they launched an inquiry, claiming the shark had been caught during an annual five-month ban designed to protect them.

“It was the only way to stop it,” Mr Suleiman insisted. “Many fishermen were complaining about its behaviour and that made me decide to hunt it down.

“I prepared a very strong fishing line, a big hook and live bait. I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was but the fishermen were glad I managed to catch it.”

The sizeable catch — which took place on February 16 — has since angered conservationists, particularly because the shark was pregnant.

Fifteen embryos were discovered in its womb after it was brought to shore and Mr Suleiman now faces a possible six-month suspension to his fishing licence.

He, meanwhile, insists he checked with the Fishermen Association in Fujairah, a local industry body, prior to starting his hunt, and was told he was legally allowed to go after it.

But this has been contradicted by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which said the shark was caught between the February 1 to June 30 ban announced last year. The period coincides with the sharks’ breeding season.

Eid Suleiman, pictured with the Bull shark. Courtesy: Eid Suleiman
Eid Suleiman, pictured with the Bull shark. Courtesy: Eid Suleiman

To complicate the issue, however, a change to the rules this year saw the ban reduced by a month and changed to run from March 1 to the end of June.

Mr Suleiman said that under this change of policy, he was entitled to fish for the shark, although the new regulations only come into force in March.

Bull sharks are relatively common off the UAE coast at this time of year, said Rima Jabado, founder and lead scientist at the Gulf Elasmo Project, which works to protect sharks, rays and sawfish in the Arabian seas.

The shark Mr Suleiman caught weighed 347.8kg and was three metres long. Typically, bull sharks are around 300kg and 2.4 metres long, with females slightly larger than males.

The case has provoked a fierce debate between fishermen, who have backed Mr Suleiman, and conservationists, who have highlighted the importance of protecting the species.

The shark is still considered endangered in the region, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Numerous studies have also demonstrated that a depletion of shark numbers has led to the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species further down the food chain.

Natalie Banks, managing director of Azraq, a non-profit volunteer marine conservation organisation, said the role of sharks at the top of ocean food chain had helped keep seas worldwide healthy for more than 450 million years.

But some shark species have seen recent declines by more than 90 per cent due to overfishing.

“Sharks are quickly headed for extinction,” said Ms Banks. “Few know, often blinded by misguided fears, of the shark's current struggles and the impact this could have on human life.

“The frightening reality is — like them or not — sharks play a crucial role on this planet. Remove sharks from the oceans and we are tampering with our primary food, water and air sources.

“They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides one third of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.”

Mohmoud Hassan, one of the fishermen who complained about the bull shark, said he was seeing rising numbers of the species in the waters he fished.

He said he supported conservation efforts but that there was also a need for an understanding that fishermen had to make a living.

Bull sharks are considered to be the among the most dangerous sharks in the world, and along with great whites and tiger sharks, are the most likely to attack humans.

“This was the first time we’ve got annoyed by the sharks for many years,” said Mr Hassan, 43.

“We noticed their numbers were gradually increasing and now we sometimes see them close to shore.

“I think the ban has increased the number of sharks which is a good thing for the environment, but we also want to fish and bring food to the table.”

Salah Al Raisi, director of the Fisheries Sustainability Department at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said an investigation would take place into the incident.

“The shark-catching incident that took place in Fujairah on February 16 falls within the shark fishing ban period from February 1 to June 30, coinciding with the shark breeding season,” he said.

He stressed that the updated rules, which allow shark fishing of non-specified species until the end of February, would not come into force until March 1.

“The penalty for fishing during the breeding season is a six-month suspension of the boat license for first-time offenders and a cancellation of the boat license for repeat offenders," he said.

“The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment works relentlessly to provide a solid legislative framework that ensures the conservation of the UAE’s flora and fauna, whether terrestrial or aquatic.”

Updated: February 24, 2019 10:43 AM

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