Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Fisherman who caught pregnant bull shark let off for 'first-time' offence

Eid Suleiman claimed he believed new rules allowed him to hunt the three-metre long predator

A fisherman who caught and killed a 350-kilogram pregnant bull shark off Fujairah in February has been warned not to repeat the offence.

Eid Suleiman, 50, hunted down the animal after colleagues complained it was eating their catch.

The three-metre long fish was killed during an annual ban on shark fishing, that coincides with the sharks’ breeding season – from February 1 to June 30.

But because Mr Suleiman said he was acting according to a subsequent change in dates to the ban, there had been a "misunderstanding" and authorities chose not to prosecute him.

“The Fujairah Municipality, in collaboration with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, carried out a detailed investigation into the bull shark,” said Mohamed Al Zaabi, director of the environmental compliance department.

“Given that the fisherman involved in the incident is a first-time offender, was unaware of the fishing ban, has shown remorse for his action, and vowed not to repeat the offence, Fujairah Municipality [has] decided to let him off with a strict warning, without enforcing any penalties.”

The killing of the bull shark on February 16 sparked intense debate between the fishing community in Fujairah and UAE conservationists.

Many fishermen backed Mr Suleiman while marine scientists highlighted the importance of protecting the species.

Fifteen embryos were discovered in the shark’s womb after it was brought to shore, further intensifying the controversy.

But Mr Suleiman insisted he checked with the Fishermen Association in Fujairah, a local industry body, before starting his hunt, and was told he was legally allowed to catch sharks.

However, this was later contradicted by the ministry which said the shark was caught during a ban period.

To complicate the issue, a change in the rules this year meant the ban from March 1 to June 30 – a month less than usual.

Mr Suleiman said this date change meant he was entitled to fish for the shark, although the new rules only came into force in March.

“I explained to the authorities that no one was aware that the new regulations were only going to be implemented in March.

“We all thought that the ban started in March. If I’d known fishing [for] sharks was banned in February I wouldn’t have caught it as we all respect the rules and regulations.

“But there was a misunderstanding as the new rule wasn’t clear enough to us.”

Bull sharks are endangered in the region, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

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

Last year, The National reported that sharks were still being caught and traded offshore despite the seasonal ban. Fishermen claimed they were being caught accidentally but still being sold for high prices.

The UAE has 153 chondrichthyans, a class of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, rays, skates, sawfish and chimaeras. Of these, 78 species are considered threatened in the Arabian Sea region.

The UAE Shark Assessment Report, released by the ministry in June last year, states three species have not been recorded in the region for at least three decades and are possibly extinct here. Of the remainder, nearly one in 10 are classified as critically endangered, one in five are endangered and one in five are vulnerable.

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

The National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks 2018-2021 outlines a detailed strategy to develop public awareness and strictly enforce legislation to protect the endangered species. The seasonal fishing ban is just one of the strategies.

A ministry spokesman said the government was working with fishing communities to raise awareness of the ban’s new dates.

He said a recent meeting at the Umm Al Quwain Fishing Festival had emphasised to fishermen that the spawning season was critical to helping sustain the nation’s fisheries and their own livelihood.

“MOCCAE organises regular awareness drives across all emirates to educate fishermen of the recently issued resolution that regulates shark fishing and trade,” said Mr Al Zaabi.

“They [fishermen] were also briefed about the diverse environmental benefits of doing so.

“The ministry urges all fishermen to abide by its fishing ban laws, as these laws are issued in the best interest of the fishermen.”

Updated: March 31, 2019 05:21 PM

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