Tuesday 06 December 2022 - 3:35:42 am

MOCCAE and EAD Launch Programme to Save UAE’s Severely Overexploited Fisheries

Abu Dhabi, 26th March, 2016 (WAM): Graced by the presence of Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, Speaker of the Federal National Council, the United Arab Emirates Sustainable Fisheries Programme was launched on Thursday by Dr. Thani Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the Secretary General of Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD). This programme, launched in recognition of the currently severely overexploited state of fisheries resources in the UAE, aims to ensure the UAE’s fishery is utilised sustainably, and will be implemented starting 2016 through to 2018.

The launch was also attended by Eng. Mariam Hareb, MOCCAE’s Assistant Undersecretary, and Dr. Shaikha Al Dhaheri, EAD’s Executive Director of the Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector, Staff Pilot Major General Abdullah Khuwaidem Al Neyadi, Director of the UAE's Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority (CICPA), Abdulla Ali Musleh Al Ahbabi, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC), in addition to officials and experts from the Ministry and EAD.

During the ceremony a memorandum of understanding between the MOCCAE and EAD was signed to enhance cooperation between the two parties to achieve sustainable fisheries through the implementation of the "UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme".

The programme was officially launched with the departure from Mina Zayed Port of the Kuwaiti research vessel, Bahith ll, which over the next year, with a crew of scientists from the MOCCAE, EAD and New Zealand, will carry out a Fish Resources Assessment Survey (FRAS) in the waters of the UAE. The vessel, Bahith ll is a multi-function research vessel with a steel hull, suitable for conducting fisheries surveys (stern trawl), oceanographic surveys, and marine environmental surveys.

The survey will assess the status of key demersal species as (bottom dwelling) fish stocks in UAE waters, such as Hamour, Shaari and Farsh, has been rigorously designed with a high level of replication which will allow for more precise estimates of fish stock sizes in the UAE since the last survey.

Dr. Thani Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), stated: "Dwindling fish stocks are a global issue, with two-thirds of the world's fish stocks either being fished at their limit or over-fished. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that 70% of the world’s fish population is fully exploited, overexploited or in crisis."

"In UAE, scientific surveys and studies revealed that the UAE’s fish stocks were being fished above their sustainable optimum levels, and it is very important to implement the UAE sustainable fisheries programme, which comes in line with the UAE Vision 2021 and the plans of the Ministry and the other concerned authorities to develop the fishing sector" Dr. Al-Zeyoudi added.

He also noted "The current state of our fishery demands our attention and our current and future collaboration to re-build fish stocks and to ensure the survival of this important component of the Emirate’s natural heritage preserve the traditional profession and legacy of our forefathers. Thus, in 2016 with EAD, we have developed a comprehensive nine project approach to assist with the fisheries recovery."

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the Secretary General of EAD, commented: "We have got to the point where firm and collaborative action across the Emirates is required in order to give our severely overexploited fisheries resources a chance of recovery. In 2015, we engaged with fisheries stakeholders across the UAE who corroborated what our science is telling us – that we have a severely overexploited commercial fishery".

"In 2016, following on from a thorough fisheries sector review that we have completed, we will be engaging with our partners and stakeholders with an aim to develop a fisheries management approach that allows our exploited marine resources to recover" she added.

Al Mubarak said "In 2016, we are also looking forward to engaging with our commercial, recreational and spearfishing communities, and working together to ensure that fisheries resources are here for future generations. The time to have this important fisheries conversation has come. Everybody has a role to play."

She noted that "A long term and consistent fisheries management is essential because the nature of the fish stock in the water of UAE, like Hamour, Shaari and Kanaad, requires according to our studies a range of 15-20 year period to move from a severely overexploited status to a fishery that has recovered and can be used sustainably."

Commenting on the Fish Resources Assessment Survey, Al Mubarak said: "The last comprehensive fisheries resources assessment survey in UAE waters was undertaken during 2002/03. Therefore, this survey will help us to improve and update estimates of stock status indices for major demersal species in the UAE and improve our understanding of the refuge function of protected areas and no-take zones. It will also help us update biological parameters of selected species, size and age structures of key fish populations, upgrade technical skills for national fisheries research personnel, understand the main environmental factors affecting the abundance and distribution of fish stocks and develop an information base to allow for the development of a management plan for the fisheries of the UAE which includes the definition of management targets and biological reference points."

"The more we know about the status of our fish stocks, the better we can work to address key issues, with the ultimate goal of allowing the fishery to recover, so it may be used sustainably in the future" Al Mubarak added.

Captain Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Ports said: "We are happy to host this event at Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal, whose eco-friendly features represent our commitment towards the environmental conservation – one of our core objectives. As we have spearheaded many initiatives to protect the marine ecosystems, including Ras Ghanada Reef – the Gulf’s largest coral reef; this is a new opportunity for us. Our community and leisure ports can play a major role in this programme and we will extend our continued support," he said.

The new fisheries programme, coordinated by the UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme Technical Committee, comprises of nine concurrent key fisheries projects which include the FRAS, which will form the new baseline against which the recovery will be measured.

In the UAE, our fisheries are an important component of the cultural heritage of coastal communities. They offer a source of employment and recreation as well as contributing to the food security of the Emirate. Unfortunately, the UAE’s commercially-important fish stocks are severely overexploited by international definition.

EAD has conducted detailed studies of fish stocks for the past 15 years in Abu Dhabi waters, which account for the majority of the marine area of the UAE. Many key species have seen a significant decline over this time with key demersal (bottom dwelling) indicator species Hamour (Orange-spotted Grouper), Shaari (Spangled Emperor) and Farsh (Painted Sweetlips), and pelagic (open water) species the Kanaad (Spanish Mackerel), being overexploited at up to five times the sustainable limit.

Our studies show that at least 13 species have been harvested beyond sustainable levels. This data is representative of the UAE given Abu Dhabi’s majority proportion of the UAE’s Arabian Gulf marine area and studies indicating that many fishers from other Emirates fish in Abu Dhabi’s waters.

The 13 overexploited species account for approximately 80% of the current commercial catch and 88% of the commercial fishery revenue. In addition to the iconic species such as the Hamour, Shaari, Farsh and Kanaad, other overexploited species include the Dhil’e (Talang Queenfish), Zuraidi (Golden Trevally), Shaari Eshkheli (Pink Ear Emperor) Yemah (Snub nosed Emperor), Qabit (Gold-lined Seabream), Safi Arabi (White-spotted Spinefoot), Kofar (King Soldier Bream), Esnenuh (Yellow fin Hind) and Marjaan (Mangrove Red Snapper).

EAD has been monitoring fish stocks against two key sustainability indicators – one is the adult stock size of the Hamour, Shaari and Farsh, when compared to their virgin biomass; and the second is the ‘Sustainable Catch Index’ which describes the proportion of catches that consist of species that are sustainably exploited.

The results are alarming - on average the adult stock size of the three key demersal species is only approximately 7% of the virgin unexploited population size. For the Hamour, the level is only approximately 6% (2014). An adult (reproductive) stock size of 30% is the sustainable threshold below which these stocks are considered to be overexploited. The second indicator, the Sustainable Catch Index, describes the proportion of the total landed catch that consists of sustainably exploited species and was only 13% in 2014. Of the 13 species that are currently over-exploited, eleven are caught with the gargoor (fish traps targeting demersal species) and two are caught with the ghazel (encircling net targeting pelagic species).

Our UAE-wide socioeconomic survey confirmed what the fisheries science is telling us – that most fishers agreed that there have been significant declines in the state of the fish stock over the past 30 years. Over 80% of the most experienced fishers in each emirate agreed that the fishery was severely overexploited.

More about Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey The survey, which is being implemented in coordination with the MOCCAE, is a fundamental pillar of fisheries management and a strategic priority for the MOCCAE and EAD, assisting in fulfilling requirements of the UAE’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and Abu Dhabi’s Biodiversity Strategy. In addition to conducting an assessment of the abundance and status of demersal fisheries resources for the UAE, the FRAS will identify key spawning grounds of major commercially exploited demersal fish species, identify the geographic range and stock delineations of fish resources occurring in the Arabian Gulf and determine the refuge strength of no-take areas.

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

Bahith ll, manned by a 13-member team of specialists including its crew, sailed off from Mina Zayed Port to start the trawl survey. The second phase of the survey will start in September and will continue until the beginning of December. A total survey area of 46,898 km2 will be covered.

The key species to be covered in this survey include 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), Yanam (Plectorhinchus sordidus), Faskar (Acanthopagrus bifasciatus), Kofar (Argyrops spinifer), Gurfah (Rastrelliger kanagurta), Kabaab (Thunnus tonggol), Kanaad (Scomberomorus commerson), Sadah (Auxis thazard), Jedd (Sphyraena sp.), Barriya (Stylophorus indicus).

The FRAS also creates a unique opportunity to collect specimens of various fish and marine species across UAE waters. Currently, there is no comprehensive reference collection of Arabian Gulf fish specimens across the region. The team’s goal is to use the marine voucher specimens collected and build the first Arabian reference collection of fishes and marine biodiversity.