Coronavirus: UAE fish prices drop as seasonal ban remains suspended

The ban was lifted earlier to ensure supermarkets in the country have stock of fresh fish

Fish prices in the country have dropped by a third after a seasonal ban on safi, sheri and shark was lifted to encourage fishing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) lifted the two-month ban on sheri (emperor fish) and safi (rabbitfish), and a three-month ban on sharks this month.

It protects species decimated by overfishing during the spawning season.

Fishmongers attribute the drop in prices to the ban being suspended, although customer numbers have plummeted as the federal government urged the public to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.

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Lifting of the ban is only temporary to help address the challenges posed this season by the current Covid-19 pandemic

“Fish prices are very cheap. It’s [fish] down to 70 per cent after the ban was lifted,” said Ali Yusuf, the manager of the Ajman fish market.

“Customers are far fewer, too, down by 60 per cent in the last week.”

The Abu Dhabi fish market reported similar price drops, according to Arabic-language newspaper Al Khaleej.

Meanwhile, markets remained crowded during daily auctions.

Social distancing regulations have not stopped fishermen and fishmongers from working side-by-side at busy markets.

“Tough times call for exceptional measures,” said Halima Al Jasmi, the head of the fisheries section at the ministry.

“We have lifted the ban on Arabian sheri, safi and shark fishing for the remainder of the ban season in a bid to respond to the demand for fresh fish and seafood in retail stores across the UAE after the country started adopting preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus and to support local fishermen during this time.

“The lifting of the ban is only temporary to help address the challenges posed this season by the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

Last week, dhows pulled into ports with large catches of shark, which is considered an expensive delicacy in Emirati cuisine and is usually protected until June.

Sharks were auctioned at Ajman fish market after the seasonal ban on fishing was lifted this month.

The ministry defended its decision.

“An important point to highlight here is that the ban on Arabian safi and sheri was lifted only 25 days before its scheduled end,” Ms Al Jasmi said.

“By that time, a sufficient number of eggs had been laid to ensure the sustainability of the species that were subject to the fishing ban.”

Fishermen interviewed last week by The National said they would support a suspension of activities to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, fishmongers, auctioneers and fishermen work closely beside each other during daily auctions.

More than 100 people were in attendance at last Sunday's auction in Ajman.

The ministry said auctions will continue.

“No, we do not recommend suspending the markets,” Ms Al Jasmi said.

“We believe that the precautionary health regulations developed by Ncema [National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority] and MOCCAE in cooperation with municipalities across the country are enough to ensure the safety of fish market staff, fishermen and buyers.”