Researchers call for improved conservation to save bony fish from extinction

Over-fishing is affecting almost half of all bony fish species in the Arabian Gulf

AJMAN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - A fisherman arranging catch of the day for auction in Ajman Fish Market.  Leslie Pableo for The National
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Almost 40 species of bony fish in the Arabian Gulf are at risk of extinction due to ­overfishing and coastal destruction, a study has revealed.

The study by the ­International Union for Conservation of Nature, New York University Abu Dhabi, and other collaborators, evaluated the conservation status of 471 species of bony fish in the Gulf.

The results showed that 8.2 per cent of the species are threatened with extinction, at least double the proportion of other regions, where similar studies have been carried out.

Most of the world's fish ­species are categorised into two types, based on their skeletal structure – bony fish and ­cartilaginous fish.

Almost all fish fall into the bony class and, in the Gulf, these include types of mullet, wrasse, grouper and butterfly fish, among others.

The research, published in ­Biological Conservation, ­revealed overfishing affects 47 per cent of bony fish, while the loss of habitat caused by ­coastal development affects 32 per cent.


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"This research provides important insights into the conservation status of ­regional fish species," said John Burt, ­associate professor of ­biology at NYU Abu Dhabi and ­co-author of the study.

“Given the high diversity and the economic importance of fish in the region, the develop­ment of regionally focused ­assessment of extinction risk will allow marine managers and policymakers to target their efforts towards the most vulnerable species.”

Researchers applied the same methodology used to compile the international union’s Red List of Threatened Species – the global accepted standard for classifying extinction risk at the species level – to assess the threat-level to the bony fish found in the Arabian Gulf.

Threats were found to be particularly severe in areas near shore, where there is a greater concentration of fish species.

Loss of these species is likely to have a significant effect on the food chain and the availability of fish for humans to eat.

The authors ­recommended strong conservation and management efforts to reduce threats.

“The Gulf is a relatively small and isolated body of water that is surrounded by eight rapidly developing nations,” Professor Burt said.

"There is a strong need for co-ordinated conservation efforts to manage these shared fish stocks and to limit threats to marine systems."