FILMMAKER PUTS SHARKS IN FOCUS
Filmmaker says grave threat to species can still be reversed
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