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Shark finning hitting Persian Gulf sharks hard

By Michael Casey

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 11:46 a.m. MDT

Kuwait talked of protecting two shark species but admitted enforcement of its ban on shark fishing was weak and that government inspectors and fishermen couldn't even identify them. Saudi Arabia claimed it banned the export of fins in 2008 but had no answers as to why its fins continue to turn up in Hong Kong markets. Oman sent a government team with no experience with sharks while Bahrain and the UAE admitted they lacked sufficient data to determine whether sharks were overfished in their waters.

"Our hands are tied because of insufficient data," Mohammed Tabish, a fisheries specialist with the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, told the conference. "It's all collected in general form and includes no species specific data which makes it difficult to take the necessary actions for particular species."

Yemen and Somalia, whose sharks routinely turn up in Dubai's market, are typical of countries with bigger problems. Both have thriving shark fisheries — Yemen ranks sixth in exporters to Hong Kong and is one of the few countries that consume sharks domestically.

Yemen has no laws protecting sharks while Somalia lacks the means to enforce the laws it has on the books due to a lack of funds, its long-running civil war and fledging government.

"If you go to the Somalia coast at night, you will see thousands of ships fishing illegally, mostly for sharks and lobster," Ahmed Shaikh Mahmoud Osman, wildlife director for Somalia's Ministry of Fisheries and Environment, said of the boats which come primarily from Asian countries. "We need fishing boats to safeguard the coast. We also need renewal of formal laws to stop criminals and greedy business people who come to our coast and smuggle our resources."

Dulvey, Fordham and Jabado encouraged the region's governments to start collecting data and using it to draw up management plans which can include quotas and outright bans on endangered shark species.

Until now, no governments in the Gulf have quotas on shark fishing nor have any national shark conservation plans. The UAE, Bahrain and Qatar do, however, give protection to sawfish — a shark-like ray species that is the most threatened marine species in the world.

Fordham also said Oman and Yemen could join the UAE in requiring that sharks are landed with their fins attached — rather than processed at sea — which helps with enforcement and makes it easier to collect scientific data.

"Overall a lot more needs to be done to insure sustainability of shark population, especially species that are exceptionally vulnerable," Fordham said.

Oman and Yemen have promised to develop shark conservation plans while Oman and Abu Dhabi have started doing stock assessments of several shark species — the first step in developing a management plan.

For the most part, though, the job of data collection is left to Jabado, who for the past two years has visited fish markets across the UAE 180 times, identifying shark species, sex ratio and abundance among other things. From that, she has concluded there are 30 shark species in the waters off the coast of the UAE and 37 coming in from Oman — about two-thirds which are listed by the IUCN as near threatened or endangered including several hammerheads.

She also has interviewed more than 100 fishermen and spent more than 100 hours on boats tagging sharks in the Persian Gulf. She has only caught five sharks herself in that time, confirming what 82 percent of the Emirati fishermen she interviewed have said: Shark numbers are down and those caught are much smaller.

"They say that 15 years ago, you looked at sunset in Dubai and could see fins," Jabado said. "They used to catch monstrous sharks, sharks bigger than a bus. They don't see those sizes anymore."

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