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10 December 2023

UAE's latest catch: Shark finners in muddy waters

By Majorie van Leijen

The UAE and eight other Arab countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Dubai committing to the improved conservation of migratory sharks.

The commitment will encourage the development of a national plan regarding migratory sharks, with a possible inclusion of more sharks on the list of protected species.

The UAE, Comoros, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are the first Arab countries to sign the MOU, which already sees the participation of 27 other nations.

These nations have committed to the conservation of seven migratory species in particular, among which are Whale shark, the Great White Shark and the Porbeagle.

“Of these species, the Whale Shark is already considered a protected species in the UAE,” explained Ahmed Al Hashimi, Director of the Ministry’s Biodiversity Department at the Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW). “The signing of the MOU means that we will dedicate more focus and attention to the migratory species, some of which are passing through the UAE waters.”

According to Al Hashemi, one of the biggest challenges that is facing the shark in general is the phenomenon he describes as ‘by catch’: “The main problem is fishermen. Sharks sometimes end up as catch. Although some fishermen are well aware of this and release these sharks when they are accidently caught, others do not. Fishermen are not targeting their meat.”

Another challenge is the controversial hunt for shark-fins, wherein, their fins are cut off and the animals are thrown back into water, often alive. “This will continue to exist as long as there is a demand for fins, al Hashemi explains.

In order to better protect migratory shark, possible measures could be the revision of shark fishing quotas, restrictions on the equipment used, restrictions on fishing areas or of fishing seasons, said Rima Jabado, Fisheries Expert, MOEW.

The inclusion of more sharks on the list of protected species list would be another option, she said. “There are three migratory species in the UAE waters, and of those one is currently on the list of protected species.”

The signing of the MOU by nine Arab countries is a historic event, said  Ralf Sonntag, Director of IFAW Germany. “These countries will sincerely think about what they can do to conserve these shark species, and this is a very positive thing. It puts the topic on the agenda.”

According to Sonntag, the agreement is of importance in the region because sharks play a pivotal role; one in the ecosystem and one in the field of tourism. “There is an active dive industry in the UAE, and sharks are a popular species. Conserving this species is a great benefit for the UAE.

However, the shark trade is also highly commercialised, he said. This week, more than 65 frontline officials from Arabian countries are attending a training workshop on the prevention of shark and other marine species trafficking in the UAE.

The training is being conducted under the umbrella of the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water in collaboration with IFAW. It was kindly sponsored by IFAW and the UNEP/CMS Secretariat with funding from the European Commission.

In September this year several shark species and the manta ray are expected to be added to the list of protected species in line with the CITES convention that took place in early 2013 and that was signed by the UAE. The oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle, three types of hammerheads and the manta ray are among the species that will receive added attention.