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UAE fish stock severely overfished Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi to implement fisheries recovery plan


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Abu Dhabi, UAE, January 24, 2018: The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has today revealed the results of its Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey, which has been completed over the past two years. The survey was the most comprehensive fisheries survey ever completed in the Arabian Gulf waters of the UAE, spanning 250 days at sea, and including over 2500 survey stations and the gathering of information from more than 200 species of fish, sharks, and rays. The survey results indicate that the UAE demersal (bottom-dwelling) fisheries resources are severely overexploited due to severe fishing pressures and are in need of major recovery.

The survey was conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), a New Zealand-based organisation made up of fisheries experts. It aimed to assess the abundance and distribution of fish stocks in UAE waters, evaluate the link between protected areas and key commercial species' stock, and, update status, biological parameters, size and age structures of key commercial fish stocks. At the same time, EAD, with the support of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), also engaged fishermen from other emirates to gauge their views on the state of the fishery.

The  survey indicates that mainly due to severe fishing pressures, key species like Hamour (Epinephelus coioides), Shaari (Lethrinus nebulosus) and Farsh (Diagramma pictum) are being fished between three and five times the sustainable limits for those species. According to the survey results, Farsh is severely exploited and has been reduced to 7% of its adult stock size. Hamour and Shaari are also overexploited with stock sizes at 12% and 13% of unexploited levels respectively. Eighty five percent of fish species stocks are considered overexploited when compared to sustainability standards. For the Hamour, which has a life span of over 20 years, they are only growing to a maximum age of eight years. Even more alarmingly, data collected on Farsh revealed that very few adult fish live over the age of two, despite an expected lifespan of over 30 years in the Arabian Gulf.

In addition to the Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey, EAD with the support of MOCCAE completed a comprehensive socioeconomic and traditional fisheries knowledge survey involving over 300 boat owners, fishing boat crew, and experienced fishers across the UAE. It focused on obtaining an understanding of fishers views on how the fishery had changed over time; fisheries management issues; and fishers' views on future management. The majority of interviews with experienced fishers were filmed, with permission, with a video record of Traditional Fishing Knowledge for the UAE established. The interviews gathered, combined with video footage from the FRAS survey and EAD's ongoing stock assessments at landing sites, have also formed the basis of a documentary film entitled 'Our Sea; Our Heritage,' which EAD will launch as part of the awareness on the state of the fishery.

H.E Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Acting Secretary General of EAD said: "Fisheries form an important component of the cultural heritage of coastal communities, are a source of employment and recreation, and contribute to food security. The results of our surveys are very concerning; they confirm that we all need to be part of the recovery plan for the long-term survival of fisheries. It's clear that it is time for the sea to recover and we have proposed several urgent and stricter measures which we will be working with our partners and the wider community on, to re-establish a sustainable fishery and ensure that the decline of our fish stocks does not continue."

Over the past 17 years, EAD and its partners have worked together to implement a number of internationally benchmarked management measures in response to the state of the fisheries. These efforts have included establishing several marine protected areas, introducing and implementing a licensing system for commercial and recreational fisheries, regulating gear use (e.g. limiting Gargoor traps and banning tarads (fishing boats) from using Gargoor in Abu Dhabi Emirate only), implementing seasonal bans to protect fish during their reproductive cycles, declaring minimum size limits for key species, implementing a commercial fishing effort cap, and banning unsustainable fishing techniques.

EAD's efforts in implementing these measures have achieved some successes (13.4% of the emirate's marine area is protected), and when comparing the wider results of the 2016 survey with findings from 2002, the results indicate that the mean relative biomass for all species combined remains similar. Whilst the key species are severely overexploited, some species have reaped positive results from EAD's efforts. Both Badah (Gerres longirostris) and Yemah (Lethrinus borbonicus) are operating at the 40% sustainable level.

H.E Al Dhaheri added: "While we have had some successes in our wider fisheries management programme, the survey results for our key species are clear and are corroborated by our fisheries stock assessment programme that has been in place since 2001, and our interviews with fishermen. Our survey of the most experienced fishermen in each emirate found that 80% of them also believed that our fishery was overexploited. At EAD, we are committed to sustainability and will do whatever it takes to implement solutions to protect our marine environment and conserve its species".

"In the immediate term we will urgently work with the commercial, recreational and spearfishing community on recovery plans that reflect the state of our fishery. We will follow up on our proposals to implement regulations such as stricter control on illegal fishing practices and ensuring fishermen continue to fish responsibly. In order to prevent further overexploitation of these species, we will continue intensifying the monitoring of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Only through such actions can we prevent our key fish stocks from further declining", H.E. Al Dhaheri added.

H.E. Dr. Al Dhaheri said, "As part of EAD's recovery plan to address the findings of the survey further, it will commence engagement with commercial and recreational fishers on implementing strict management measures that will support the fisheries recovery".

More about Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey (FRAS)

  • The total survey area is 46898 km2


  • The survey covered two seasonal surveys, one during the key spawning season for most of the commercially important species, and one during the cooler winter months, with methods including trawling, acoustics and trapping, the same methods used in the 2002/03 surveys.

  • The survey were conducted by two research vessels chartered: the smaller 'Bahith I' conducted the inshore survey; and the larger 'Bahith II' conducted the offshore survey in deeper waters. Specialists including experts from EAD, MOCCAE, New Zealand and some specialists from other competent entities conducted the survey.

  • A number of methods were used including fish trapping with gargours, bottom trawling, acoustics and camera observations on fish behaviour.

  • The survey spanned 250 days at sea, and included over 2500 survey stations. Ten national employees were trained during sampling trips, while sampling hours were 1,200 hours.

  • A catch of 6.5 mt comprising of fish, sharks, cephalopods, crustaceans and benthic fauna was sampled. About 200 different species of fish, sharks and cephalopods were taken. The catch was weighed and several thousand fish measured, along with data on the spawning condition of the fish to help determine the timing and location of spawning.

  • The ear bones or otoliths from 10 key species were collected from 1,798 fish for fish aging purposes. Fin clips were taken from 1,799 individual fish from 15 species for genetics studies.

  • An additional 137 voucher specimens from 76 species were collected during the second survey to add to the 459 specimens collected from the first survey to be used to build the first group of fish and marine diversity in the region.

  • Oceanographic parameters collected included salinity, temperature, depth and current speed and direction. The survey provided a unique capacity building opportunity for national fisheries research. 

  • The key species to be covered in this survey included Hamour (Epinephelus coioides), Shaari (Lethrinus nebulosus), Farsh (Diagramma pictum), Zuraidi (Gnathanodon speciosus), Jesh Um Al Hala (Carangoides bajad), Shaari Eshkheli (Lethrinus lentjan), Badah (Gerres longirostris), Yemah (Lethrinus borbonicus), Qabit (Rhabdosargus sarba) and Yanam (Plectorhinchus sordidus

  • The survey provided a unique opportunity to collect specimens of fish and other marine species of different species across UAE waters, which contributes to the establishment of a national marine biodiversity reference collection.


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