The hatchery and research centre, which opened in November, and was named the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Marine Research Centre, will focus on breeding popular UAE fish varieties including hammour, sobaity, shaam and qabet. It aims to produce 3.3 million fish fingerlings in its first year of operation, rising to 10 million by 2017.
Once sufficiently developed, the juvenile fish will be released into the UAE coastal waters, in order to boost fish stocks. The hatchery will also conduct research to find the best locations to release the new fish populations.
Overfishing destroys stocks
Alongside the hatchery announcement, the UAE minister for environment and water, Dr Rashid Bin Fahad, revealed the extent of declines in marine fish stocks in the country’s territorial waters, in a statement released on World Fisheries Day on 21 November.
In the UAE’s Gulf of Oman waters, stocks have fallen 94% between 1975 and 2011, said the minister. In its Arabian Gulf waters the decline in stocks was 88% over the same period, falling from 4,950kg per square kilometre, to 599kg.
Bin Fahad pinned this decline firmly on overfishing, noting the number of fishermen operating from the UAE had risen from 5,593 in 1976 to 24,765 in 2011. In response the Ministry of Environment and Water has introduced restrictions on fishermen, along with a consumer education campaign aimed at reducing demand for overfished species, such as hammour.
But following Bin Fahad’s statement, members of the UAE’s Federal National Council criticised measures such as restricting the use of nets by fishermen. FNC member Hamad Al Rahoomi was reported to have said such measures resulted in fish swimming past UAE waters, only to be caught by fishermen from neighbouring countries.
Rise in aquaculture
Along with efforts to repopulate marine stocks and to curb overfishing, the UAE is increasingly turning to aquaculture to meet the growing demands for seafood. Projects such as Emirates AquaTech, set to produce sturgeon meat and caviar, have put a renewed focus on aquaculture projects.
Last year seafood firm Asmak announced plans for a salmon farm in Al Gharbia, at Dalma Island, with the company claiming it would cut the cost of salmon in the UAE by up to 50% compared to imports. Asmak said it planned to introduce fish into the facility in the second half of this year.
Next year the UAE will play host to Aqua Middle East, a new trade show focused on aquaculture and fisheries. Bin Fahad, the show’s patron, singled out the exhibition as part of the UAE’s efforts to re-establish sustainable fish production and consumption.