UAE fishing ban leads to resurgence in species

Stocks of sheri and safi fish have rebounded

B571D3 UAE Abu Dhabi Skyline at the corniche and fishing harbour
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A seasonal fishing ban has successfully led to a resurgence in two key fish species in the UAE.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment found stocks of the sheri, or emperor fish, as well as safi, or rabbit fish, have begun to recover after a 2015 policy prohibiting the fishing and trade of the species during the spawning season.

The ban is one of several measures introduced in the Emirates aimed at reviving fish species on the brink of disappearing from UAE waters.

A study by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi released last year revealed more than 85 per cent of the sheri population had been wiped out.

But on Monday, a new survey published by the ministry found their population had since improved and that their average length had also increased by eight per cent.

Meanwhile, research found the number of safi fish had increased by almost a third since last year and their average length and size had increased by nine per cent.

“The survey results testify to an enhanced awareness among fishermen about the importance of complying with the federal legislation that safeguards fishery stocks and enhances their sustainability,” said Ahmed Mohammed, the director of the ministry’s marine environment research department.

The survey was done at the landing areas and collected from the data of registered fishing boats and divers.

The UAE is seeking to replenish its fish to a level considered sustainable by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

But a 2018 study from the University of British Columbia found that a third of marine species could become extinct in the Arabian Gulf before the end of the century because of rising water temperature, changing salinity and oxygen levels, and human activities like over fishing.

Several campaigns have attempted to educate local fishermen on the risks of over fishing.

Large fish fetch the biggest prices at markets but are also the most prolific breeders.

“Sheri and safi are among the most important local fish species,” said Mr Mohammed.

“Due to high consumer demand, they faced over fishing in the past and were unable to replenish their populations naturally.

“The ban has alleviated this pressure and given the fish sufficient time to reproduce.”

The ministry called on fishermen to return any safi or sheri caught accidentally during the ban to the water.

Stocks were estimated at 9,100 kg per square kilometre in 1975 but dropped to 528kg per sq km by 2011, due to overexploitation and habitat destruction.