International trade in three shark species will be restricted following the adoption of new global rules.
The sale of smooth, great or scalloped hammerhead sharks will require government-issued permits under restrictions by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The UAE in March became one of 178 signatories to sign up to the rules, which also govern oceanic white-tip and porbeagle sharks, although neither of these are found in our waters.
Data from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (Ead) shows that up to 4.3 tonnes of scalloped hammerhead and great hammerhead were landed in the emirate in 2011.
Signatories have 18 months to implement the rules.
"All countries catching sharks will need to review their legislation to comply with CITES requirements regarding sharks," said Elsayed Mohamed, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Arab countries, including the UAE, also need to train officials to implement the new rules, he said.
IFAW is organising a series of workshops in the region next year, although its priorities will be Yemen, Oman, Sudan and Egypt, where most of the region's sharks are landed.
Stanley Hartmann, of Ead's fisheries investigation and monitoring unit, said one possibility was to ban demersal longlines, popularly known as manshalla, which consist of up to 100 hooks.
Commercial fisheries have been able to obtain a licence for shark fishing using longlines since 2010.
It is valid for eight months and there are restrictions, but it has proven very lucrative for fishermen.
"Ead is in favour of abolishing manshalla fishing operations in the UAE altogether as a first step to comply with the Cites Appendix II protection measures for the hammerhead sharks," Mr Hartmann said.
"The mentioned shark species are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are all slow growing, late to mature, long-living and produce few young, which means it is difficult for populations to recover from overfishing."
In line with its commitments under Cites, the UAE may issue export licences for the three species and their products provided that trade is sustainable and does not threaten their survival.
"On the basis of their globally threatened status, there is, however, no sound justification to issue these trade permits and it is expected that the landings and trade of hammerhead sharks will slowly but surely cease to exist in the UAE," Mr Hartmann said.
"Ead is Abu Dhabi's environmental regulator and cooperates closely with the Ministry of Environment and Water on a number of issues of national interest.
"The implementation of trade protection measures for hammerhead sharks will be addressed, in close harmony with the stakeholders involved, including the fishermen, the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority, shark traders and retailers."
While the UAE's shark fishery is relatively small compared with those of Yemen or Oman, the country is a major re-export centre for shark products, especially fins, which are a valued item in the Far East.
The UAE is the fifth largest shark fin trader to Hong Kong, with up to 170,000 kilograms of fins exported in 2011, Mr Hartmann said.
Dubai is the main trading hub for the business.
Officials at the Ministry of Environment and Water were unavailable for comment.
Photo © Sonja Fordham, Shark Advocates International