Fishermen defy UAE ban on shark hunting

Illegal hunting of sharks continue in UAE waters despite the annual four-month ban by the government.

DUBAI // Fishermen are landing sharks throughout the year despite a January to April Government ban, a conservation conference was told yesterday.

The marine biologist Rima Jabado has made regular visits to landing sites and markets in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, and found thousands of sharks caught in UAE waters were being brought ashore in the closed season.

Ms Jabado's findings were backed up by Stanley Hartmann of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (Ead), who said 57 per cent of total annual shark landings at the capital's Freeport area took place in the first four months of the year.

And Mr Hartmann said dozens of fishermen were catching sharks without a licence.

"I get to the landing sites when the boats are there and I see sharks from January to April," said Ms Jabado. "They are only allowed to fish in UAE waters, so they are fishing during the ban."

The total number she saw landed across the four emirates in the closed season peaked at more than 2,500 in April last year.

"If you look at the same [period] this year there were less sharks that were caught but we're still not at zero," Ms Jabado said.

"If this were being monitored and enforced why are there sharks still being brought in? And I only go to the sites a few times a month so I don't know what's happening on the other dates.

"There's no enforcement, so the fishermen are not worried about anyone catching them.

"It's not as if they are doing it and hiding it; they're doing it in broad daylight in front of the fisheries observers. The law is there and no one is enforcing it."

Thabit Al Abdessalaam of Ead said: "However much we want to deny it, we do not have sufficient enforcement of the shark fishing.

"Rather than us denying, we need to do something to correct that."

Mr Hartmann said: "For January, February, March and April we see a tremendous amount of landings taking place [at Freeport]. It's more than half [of the yearly total].

"The value is 60 per cent, so 60 per cent of the total trade occurs during the closed season."

The law banning shark fishing from January 1 to April 30 was passed by the Ministry of Environment and Water in 2008.

Ms Jabado collected the data for her doctorate thesis on sharks of the Arabian Gulf.

She will submit her work to UAE University for review in January but gave delegates at the Shark Conservation Arabia Workshop in Dubai a preview.

She has identified 30 species and found that six - the spot-tail, milk, common blacktip, slit-eye, whitecheek and smoothhound - accounted for more than 90 per cent of the total caught in the Emirates.

The ministry issues shark fishing licences for free, but Mr Hartmann said 50 per cent of the 101 boats that landed sharks at Freeport last year were not licensed.

The total wholesale value of sharks sold was Dh1,360,000, of which 43 per cent were caught by unlicensed fishermen.

Mr Hartmann said a small shark sold for between Dh66 and Dh86; a medium one from Dh180 to Dh300; and a large one for Dh560 to Dh1,200.

"For the individual fishermen the landing of a big shark is really an extra bonus, and often they double their revenue from their normal catch of fish," he said.

Mr Hartmann said 75 per cent of sharks landed last year were large.

"This has dire consequences for the marine environment in Abu Dhabi," he said.