Scores of sailfish are currently being taken out of Fujairah waters while authorities bemoan the depletion of species such as hamour.
It is high time for UAE fishing catch laws to be formulated and policed.
Size but Not Bag Limits
An official at the Fujairah Municipality Emergency and Market Control office (at the Fujairah Souqs) pointed to a chart on the wall indicating the legal length of fish that can be caught—e.g. hamoor (orange spotted groper) 45 cms, sheei’rii (spangled emperor) 22 cms—but he indicated that as a fisherman and an official regulating the sale of fish, he was unaware of any law defining how many fish could be caught.
The same story was told by Ali Al Dhanhy, who has jurisdiction on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and Water for Fujairah and the entire UAE East Coast. He was distressed to hear of the number of billfish that were being taken out of Fujairah waters and said that at the official level there had been some discussion about the need for the UAE to set catch laws, as is the practice in many other countries.
‘Stop the Massacre!’
Expat school teacher and pleasure fisherman, Chris Brand, is alarmed by the ‘slaughter’ of sailfish in recent months. Here is the scenario that he has frequently witnessed:
“The local fishermen rush to the areas where sailfish are spotted. A float or buoy with a few metres of line attached to a strong hook is then baited with a small live fish. Ten or more of these ‘traps’ are then spread over a large area by each fisherman. The fisherman then sits back in his boat…until the sailfish takes the bait. All the fisherman then has to do is to get hold of the float and pull in the sailfish.”
Brand has seen several boats on one of his fishing trips catch and keep a total of 20 sailfish. This species is not a fish that most locals enjoy eating yet the fishermen can sell sailfish at the Fujairah fish market for 250 AED each.
Cash Now, Deletion Later
A representative of a UAE fishing charter company, which has a strict tag and release policy for billfish, said that he and captains of his other boats frequently see local fishermen catching 8-10 sailfish on one outing. He said that two months ago fishermen got paid 700 AED for each sailfish at the Fujairah fish market but now the price is between 200-300 AED. He and his colleagues have discussed the matter with some local fishermen who seem more intent on getting extra cash now rather than worrying about the prospect of there being few sailfish in ten years time.
Other fishermen are being lured to Fujairah to catch sailfish. On Twitter yesterday (8 March 2011) was this tweet, “Arabian fishing update: Loads of sails in Fujairah, water warming in Muscat with some YFT being spotted... nice nice nice.”
There are many international precedents that UAE authorities could study and adapt to conserve billfish (sailfish, marlin etc) by writing laws that include imposing release rules, banning the use of live bait, putting an end to the local sale and export of sailfish meat and preferably, banning the catch of billfish altogether.
Having established legal length rules for most fish it would not be difficult for the UAE to pass laws to do with catch or bag limits as has happened in many other countries.
Education and Policing
The tougher challenge will be to implement an education programme (which could be part of the process for getting a fishing license) and then policing the waters and marinas to ensure that the laws are not being violated.
This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page.
Image: These magnificent sailfish are being caught in great numbers in Fujairah waters and are sold at the local fish market.