Film­maker says grave threat to species can still be re­versed

7 Days in Dubai - - NEWS - By Shab­nam Bashiri @Shab­namBashiri

T he fight against il­le­gal shark fish­ing in the Ara­bian Gulf is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence but ef­forts must con­tinue to erad­i­cate the trade, one UAE-based doc­u­men­tary film­maker has said.

Jonathan Ali Khan said the bru­tal busi­ness has been dealt a blow with new laws on fish­ing and trad­ing in shark meat.

The in­dus­try is driven by an ap­petite in the Far East for shark fin soup and herbal reme­dies with un­proven health ben­e­fits.

And Khan said that ap­petite con­tin­ues to put this re­gion’s – and the world’s – shark pop­u­la­tion at risk.

Khan, who is based in Dubai, was speak­ing ahead of a screen­ing of his new doc­u­men­tary in the city last night. It will also air on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel on Oc­to­ber 20.

Ara­bia’s Sharks: A Jour­ney of Dis­cov­ery is an hour-long film that took seven years to make and seeks to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the threat sharks face.

An es­ti­mated 100 mil­lion sharks are killed ev­ery year and more than 70 per cent of th­ese are for their fins. The dy­ing shark is of­ten thrown back into the wa­ter af­ter be­ing de-finned.

Khan told 7DAYS that tougher laws are tack­ling il­le­gal fish­ing, while cam­paigns in Hong Kong and China are go­ing some way to re­duc­ing the ap­petite.

He said: “The con­sump­tion has re­duced, the trade is down 35 per cent from what it was five years ago.

“And that’s a sig­nif­i­cant statis­tic in the sense that it was gen­er­ated mainly through the re­sponse of the pub­lic, who de­cided ‘this is wrong, we won’t eat shark fin soup, we will not con­trib­ute to the de­mand for it’.

“That’s an ex­am­ple on how the pub­lic can af­fect and im­pact the sit­u­a­tion.”

But he said the dish con­tin­ues to be “served mainly in wed­dings and ban­quets as a sym­bol of af­flu­ence”.

Khan said there is no mar­ket for the dish in the Mid­dle East, but that the re­gion has been a con­trib­u­tor to the prob­lem. He said: “Al­though peo­ple here don’t eat shark fin soup, they have to re­alise that 8 per cent of the fins reach­ing Hong Kong were com­ing through this re­gion.”

When pro­duc­tion be­gan seven years ago, shark fins were be­ing fished from So­ma­lia, Ye­men, Oman, Ethiopia, among other coun­tries and the UAE was a hub of re­dis­tri­bu­tion to Hong Kong and Sin­ga­pore.

The sit­u­a­tion has im­proved, he said. The UAE brought in tougher rules in 2014.

The UAE has no out­right ban on shark fish­ing, but lim­its the trade to cer­tain months of the year. It also pro­hibits the hunt­ing of two saw­fish species and the whale shark. There are other pro­tec­tion regimes for three species of ham­mer­head sharks and the oceanic white-tip shark.

Khan said: “The UAE has also be­come very ac­tive on a global level by sign­ing in­ter­na­tional mora­to­ri­ums like the CMS Con­ven­tion of Mi­gra­tory Species, in sup­port of the con­ser­va­tion of sharks.”

Khan hopes the film will help the pub­lic un­der­stand how cru­cial sharks are.

He said: “Sharks are ef­fec­tively man­ag­ing the food chain from the top. They re­move the genetically weak fish from the waters, and they help main­tain the health of marine en­vi­ron­ment.

“There are many fish that feed on the al­gae and phy­to­plank­ton that col­lec­tively con­trib­ute to the pro­duc­tion of our air sup­ply. The role of apex preda­tors helps to keep the num­bers of fish life in bal­ance.

“To con­tinue re­mov­ing sharks like we have been could bring about the col­lapse of life on the reef, or life in the sea in a trickle-down ef­fect, as sharks are slow to re­pro­duce.This can ac­tu­ally lead to lo­calised ex­tinc­tion.

“We can­not be­come com­pla­cent be­cause we have made some progress, but we need to re­main com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing sharks in the long run.”

HUNTED: Khan’s film fo­cuses on the im­pact that the de­mand for shark prod­ucts has had on the Ara­bian Gulf shark pop­u­la­tion

BRU­TAL: A shark fin is sev­ered by a hunter (right) and be­low vol­un­teers fight to save a de-finned shark thrown into the wa­ter

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