The UAE has launched a 12-year plan to protect and revive the country’s dwindling fish stocks.

The plan, launched by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi on the second day of the World Ocean Summit, calls for stronger management of commercial and recreational fishing, increased aquaculture research to support fish stock improvement, and the installation of artificial reefs that will be marked as protected areas. The key action recommendations aim to rehabilitate marine habitats and fish populations.

The UAE National Framework for Sustainable Fisheries 2019-2030 picks up from the UAE Sustainable Fisheries Programme that ran from 2014 to 2018. It the country’s first national recovery plan for fisheries and is slated for execution by 2030 — a deadline chosen based on the global average length of time it takes for fish populations to recover.

“At present, we are facing a two-fold challenge — first, we are working to sustain our fisheries and allow them to replenish. At the same time, we have the responsibility of meeting the growing market demand for fish,” said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

“The UAE National Framework for Sustainable Fisheries will help us strike a balance between the two priorities. This monumental step for our nation will enable us to preserve our long-standing fishing tradition for years to come. Together with EAD and key government authorities and in consultation with our fishing community, we are confident that this framework will guide us towards a sustainable future for the UAE’s fisheries sector.”

The framework was developed in response to the stark results from last year’s Fisheries Resources Assessment Survey, compiled with insights from more than 300 members of the UAE fishing community.

The survey revealed the severe depletion of the UAE’s fish stocks due to overfishing. The three species hit hardest are hamour (orange-spotted grouper), shaari (spangled emperor) and farsh (painted sweetlips). Populations of these fish have declined to just 10 per cent of their adult (reproductive) stock size remaining and are overexploited by up to five times the sustainable limit.

The framework sets a target of at least 30 percent of adult fish, as well as the minimum threshold that international standards prescribe for sustainable fish stocks.

The rapid growth in population worldwide has put immense pressure on the oceans, with a demand for fish increasing in tandem. The UAE’s marine environment is equally under pressure as a result of overfishing, coastal developments leading to the loss and degradation of key habitats and water quality, cumulative desalination activities, pollution and climate change.

Three climate change studies by EAD and the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative predicted a 26 percent decline in fish catch by 2090. Illegal fishing, use of banned fishing gear, catching of prohibited species, flouting laws on fish size limits, as well as unreported significant catch through recreational fishing are all adversely affecting the country’s fish stocks. (The National)