By Ola Salem
ABU DHABI // The number of fish in the Arabian Gulf fell by 88 per cent between 1975 and 2011, the Minister of Environment told the Federal National Council this week.
The dramatic decline was brought about by an increase in fishermen – from 5,593 in 1976 to 24,765 in 2011.
The ministry has introduced a number of laws to halt the decline in fish stocks. These include getting fishermen to choose between two different fishing techniques, either a net or a traditional fishing cage.
This week, however, council members reacted critically to the measures to curb overfishing, saying it harmed fishermen.
FNC member Hamad Al Rahoomi (Dubai), who formerly headed a fishing society, said the decision was unjust and that fishermen had suffered.
He said fishermen should not be tied down by one technique or the other because sometimes they needed to alternate between the two in a single fishing trip.
“The decision is impractical and unjust,” he said. “I have a good background in this and I have met fishermen. They are not happy.”
He said the fishing net was good at catching migrating fish in the Arabian Gulf and if it was not used then the fish would just be caught by fishermen from other countries.
“They swim and pass then other countries would benefit from them,” he said.
But in a letter to the FNC, the Minister of Environment, Dr Rashid bin Fahad, defended the new laws.
“The UAE has witnessed development in all sectors, including the fishing sector, which the leadership gave great importance to and encouraged fishermen to hold on to their profession,” the minister said. “This was achieved by providing them with loans for fishing gear, fixing and maintaining their boats and offering them insight into the latest fishing techniques to allow them to catch more fish and elevate their living standards.”
But, as a result, the numbers of fish in the sea had decreased rapidly.
A study found that between 1975 and 2011 the amount of fish went from 4,950 kilograms per square kilometre to 599kg per sq km – a decline of 88 per cent.
The minister also wrote that the UAE’s position in the world competitive index in terms of fish wealth declined from 51st in 2012 to 69th this year.
Mr Al Rahoomi, who asked reasons behind the ministry’s decision, said a solution needed to be found.
Dr Fahad said the ministry’s policies were made after recommendations from the FNC.
He said the laws were based on the council’s proposal, which was then passed by the Cabinet. The laws aimed to regulate fishing by putting an end to the kind of fishing that increased profit at the expense of the environment.
The ministry has regulated methods of fishing “to lessen the pressure on the sea environment”, Dr Fahad said.
Mr Al Rahoomi said he has summoned the minister for clarification, with Dr Fahad being expected to attend at the next council meeting on December 9.