Laws alone will not save the sharks

Enforcement against unscrupulous fish sales is needed to protect a threatened ecosystem

Shark sales in UAE fish markets are strictly regulated. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The ban on catching sharks during their breeding and migration season, which is under way now, is designed to ensure the 29 indigenous or migratory shark species found in our waters will still be a resource for future generations. But when members of the fishing industry knowingly breach that ban, as we reported yesterday, they threaten the very industry on which their future depends.

Inspectors from Dubai Municipality who visited Deira fish market in a surprise raid in the middle of the night last week found 80 sharks for sale by a fishmonger. He was aware of the blanket ban on catching sharks between February and July and, as a first offender, his catch was confiscated.

However, by then the sharks had already been definned, with the meat most probably sold for export to China, where shark fin soup is a controversial but popular delicacy.

The UAE is trying to strike the right balance between exploiting a valuable resource while also ensuring the long-term health of the marine environment. The six-month ban during sharks’ breeding and migration season came into effect in September 2014. The Ministry of Environment and Water resolution also imposed a complete prohibition of trading in five species of shark that have been identified by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) as being at risk. Three of the five are common in local waters, while the ban on the other two has the effect of stopping Dubai and Abu Dhabi being trans-shipment points between countries where the sharks were caught and China, the usual destination.

However, laws alone cannot achieve the intended goal without being accompanied by enforcement of the kind seen this week. Without unannounced inspections, some unscrupulous fish traders will be tempted to earn a quick dirham, even if they know the long-term damage to the system. We have not just the responsibility to ensure future generations will also be able to enjoy the bounty of the oceans but also a duty to do so. That duty requires the authorities to verify that everyone plays by the same rules, without gaining a business advantage by breaching the ban on trading in sharks at this time of year. If they will not protect their future, we have to do it on behalf of the generations that will follow.