Ruling on fishing and sale of sharks welcomed by conservationists

Ministry of Environment and Water resolution 500 for the year 2014, which comes into effect from September 1, creates a buffer zone of five nautical miles off the coast for fishermen and extends the duration of the no-take period.

Shark fins are cut off in Dubai. From September certain species of sharks are to be released back into the water if caught. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
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DUBAI // Conservationists have welcomed new regulations governing the fishing and sale of sharks in the UAE, which, while still allowing for the animals to be targeted, puts a lot more requirements on fishermen and traders.

Ministry of Environment and Water resolution 500 for the year 2014, which comes into effect from September 1, creates a buffer zone of five nautical miles off the coast for fishermen and extends the duration of the no-take period.

It limits the use of some fishing tools and forbids the targeting of shark species protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

The convention, which concerns issues of trading animals across international borders, mentions five shark species of which three – different species of hammerhead shark – are common in UAE waters. From September this year such sharks are to be released back into the water if caught.

“Although it could have been more, it is a positive step,” said filmmaker and conservationist Jonathan Ali Khan, adding the resolution defines the issue of shark fishing and trade more clearly and is “an important move forward”.

“All of these are important steps but most significant of all is how it illustrates openly and exactly what the ministry and the customs authorities intend to do,” said Mr Khan. “They would be expected to live up to those responsibilities.”

While the resolution prevents the export of sharks caught in UAE waters, it still allows for the re-export of sharks caught elsewhere. The Emirates is a hub for the re-export business, with sharks caught in Oman, Yemen and Somalia gathered here and sold to traders in the Far East

Conservationists have been lobbying for an outright ban on all trading in shark products. The new ruling means the import and re-export of sharks will be government by stricter rules with traders required to provide a number of documents.

Shipments of sharks and shark products will be accepted for import if accompanied by source of origin certificates, stating the scientific name of the shark species, as well as a health certificate, commercial invoice and packing list for each shipment.

For species on the Cites list, additional documents will be required.

When it comes to the re-export of sharks, the new rules are likely to affect trading because of the additional required paperwork. But the trade is still allowed to continue and, according to Mr Khan, measures to protect shark populations should address the role the UAE plays as an important stop along the trade route.

“The numbers of landed sharks from UAE waters are not the main issue, it is the re-export,” he said. “Will sharks coming from Oman and other countries be slowed down because of the paperwork? That is the real question.”

A major issue when it comes to the implementation of the Cites rules is the ability of customs staff to recognise shark parts that belong to any of the five species listed. Identifying them is not easy without specialised training and while the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) earlier held training sessions in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Water, it is likely to pose a burden on customs authorities.

If only the trading of whole sharks was permitted, identification would be an easier issue, said Dr Elsayed Mohamed, regional director of IFAW. The National could not immediately clarify this point with the ministry.

vtodorova@thenational.ae

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