A severe decline in fishing stocks reveled by an assessment carried out by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi has prompted the government to place restrictions, promote sustainable fishing and increase awareness among the general public. The decline is a result of the exponential increase in the UAE’s population, tourism and trade, resulting in a large demand for seafood. In addition, according to WWF, over exploitation, coastal development and growing maritime traffic have had an impact on local fisheries. Reports by the press suggest that consumption for seafood in the UAE stood at 33kg for 2012.
The most favored and most common species in the UAE and the GCC countries, hammour (a member of the grouper family) and kingfish, are also the most commercially exploited. Both species are currently being fished at a level which is seven times higher the sustainable level. As a result, three quarters of hammour are being fished before reaching maturity. This is having a dramatic impact in the population of hammour as estimates show that the population of hammour in the last 30 years has declined by 90%. As a consequence, and in support of the government’s awareness programme, some hotels and restaurants have opted to remove hammour from the menu and are now offering alternative options.
Around three quarters of the UAE’s demands for seafood are met through imports including some Norwegian seafood products which are known for their quality as a few are currently being exported to the region. A practical and current solution to the above problem, and with regards to the country’s high demand for seafood, is the development of aquaculture, which is being actively promoted by the Fisheries Department. There is still a lot of room for development as current offer by fish farms does not meet demand.