The UAE should introduce tough new measures to protect threatened shark species, according to one of the organisers of a conservation conference taking place this week.
The Emirates took action in 2008 by banning the finning of live sharks at sea and outlawing shark fishing from January 1 to April 30 each year.
But Jonathan Ali Khan, a shark expert and wildlife filmmaker, said the UAE should take its policies one step further and ban imports and exports of shark fins and imports of whole sharks. He would also like to see the no-fishing period extended.
Seventy-three types of shark are regarded as threatened with extinction by conservationists, and many of them are migratory species that pass through Arabian waters.
The UAE is a major hub for the global trade in shark fins, which are shipped to China where they are used to make a soup that is regarded as a highly prized delicacy. Dried fins are sold for between Dh100 and Dh125 per kilogram at Deira Fish Market, but the same amount can fetch US$880 (Dh3,250) in Hong Kong.
“The majority of the people who benefit from the fin trade are perhaps a couple of dozen Asian businessmen who make the big bucks,” said Mr Khan. “So it’s not the UAE as a whole that benefits, and the negativity associated with this trade in terms of image, I think, is not worth it.
“The UAE should announce a few decisions. It certainly has taken initiatives, such as the partial ban on shark fishing which includes part of the breeding season – that was a really important decision.
“We’re hoping that we can try to get it extended, perhaps to six months, because it’s a little bit short of the whole breeding season. And speaking for myself, I do believe that the UAE could ban the fin trade.”
Mr Khan is the project leader of Sharkquest Arabia, which is helping to stage the four-day Shark Conservation in Arabia Workshop that starts in Dubai today. The event has been organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Water.
The invitation-only workshop will bring together shark scientists and government officials from the GCC and countries adjoining the Red Sea. New findings by researchers will be presented for the first time.
Dr Ralf Sonntag, a shark expert at IFAW, said: “We want to start a dialogue about sharks with the governments of the region. We want to bring people together to discuss sharks to improve knowledge about them and also to create a good feeling about sharks.
“For many people, sharks are something big and bad somewhere in the sea. In reality, a shark is a fascinating animal with complicated biology and behaviour.”
Photo © Sonja Fordham, Shark Advocates International - Tresher Sharks in Dubai Fish Market