Sharks in Persian Gulf needs accreditation schemes

May 9, 2016

Archeological surveys in Abu Dhabi have recovered various items such as shark vertebrae and teeth from sites that are over 7,000 years old. This could indicate that the exploitation of shark resources in this region is a tradition and part of the cultural heritage of the various populations that lived along the coastline.

By Farnaz Heidari, M.Sc. in Environmental Science Engineering 

Archeological surveys in Abu Dhabi have recovered various items such as shark vertebrae and teeth from sites that are over 7,000 years old. This could indicate that the exploitation of shark resources in this region is a tradition and part of the cultural heritage of the various populations that lived along the coastline.

Dr. Rima Jabado works as a zoologist, ecologist and marine biologist in Environment Agency of Abu-Dhabi. As founder and lead scientist of Gulf-ELASMO-Project, Jabado tries hard to promote citizen science and make a reliable data for advancing research and conservation.

In an interview with the Tehran Times she explained about some different characteristics of Persian Gulf sharks.

“Through market and landing site surveys, I have been able to confirm 30 species of sharks from this water; they have different characteristics in the sense that they vary in sizes (the smallest species have a maximum size of about 70-80 centimeters while the larger species can reach up to 4 meters),” she said.

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus is believed to reach over 15 meters and is planktivorous (feeds on microscopic organisms floating in the sea), she pointed, adding, a species like the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, is known to also frequent freshwater systems including estuaries and rivers.

Each species has specific characteristics in terms of behavior, habitat used, diet, she noted.

Hard to grasp the behavior of sharks

It is really hard to grasp behavior of sharks.

Dr. Jabado addressed some basic methods for gathering information in this field explaining “there are many gaps regarding our understanding of sharks in the region,” adding, “before I started my project, we didn’t even had a definitive list of species that occur in the Gulf (Persian Gulf) and that was the most important objective for me.”

Without knowing which species occur in these waters, their distribution and abundance, it’s impossible to plan further research and put together conservation plans, she highlighted.

“I have gathered a lot of information on the various species but to effectively protect these species, we still need more data on their biology, the nursery areas they utilize, their population structure, and their movements (whether they stay in the Gulf or move between the Indian Ocean and here),” she added.

She went on to say that “I would never have been able to collect all my data without the help of over 80 volunteers that took time off their busy schedules to come to markets across the country and on boat surveys with me.”

“I sent out a few emails through some organization in the UAE, and many people got back to me, which was very exciting which meant that the community was very interested in sharks and also that I could give something back by exposing them a little to sharks and their plight,” she pointed.

“I am now trying to put together a website where volunteers and the community in general can also report sightings of sharks from markets or from diving which would allow data to be collected year round,” Jabado said.

A big gap for Iran

There is some research on sharks that is undergoing in Iran, but Dr. Jabado explained that “there should be definitely more work undertaken and since Iran is one of the top shark fishing nations in the world, gaining a better understanding of the fishery and the species that are affected is crucial for the conservation of sharks in this area.” 

Vulnerable species

Increasing demand of shark products in Asia market is a big challenge for survival of sharks. Some shark species are more vulnerable especially in our region.

The demand for shark products, including meat and fins, is increasing in Asia; some of the species that are most in demand are the various species of hammerhead sharks and the sharks from the Carcharhinidae family that have ‘black fins’, Dr. Jabado said.

“It’s difficult to say which species are most vulnerable because we don’t have a regional assessment on the status of any of the species,” she regretted.

“Our data depends on the status of these sharks from other regions of the world, therefore we really need to get further information on the sharks in these waters,” she said.

Some of the most common species captured in the fisheries here include the spot-tail shark, Carcharhinus sorrah, and the milk shark, Rhizoprionodon acutus, she noted.

She also pointed that her project did not investigate the population structure and stocks of these species; however, she has been collaborating with many different institutions and they are conducting genetic analysis on several shark species that are important in regional fisheries.

All of these analysis will give a better indication on the status of shark stocks. However, stock assessments need to be undertaken for each species to gain a better understanding of whether populations are depleting.

Widespread practice

“Now countries such as United Arab Emirates and Oman asked some of top international marine specialists for help in conservation terms, but unfortunately there is a big gap in Iran. Iran needs expertise in a number of areas, including the environment, she said.

She additionally mentioned that “it is vital for us to protect our ecosystems and habitats especially our marine heritage needs more and more attention.”

Dr. Jabado concluded that “the Gulf is a small body of water and I believe that for most species of sharks, the UAE and Iran share populations, therefore it would be crucial to collaborate and conduct research together.”

Reports from many countries in the Gulf (Persian Gulf) show that fish stocks are depleting and have reached worrisome levels, she highlighted, adding, it is probable that many shark stocks are also facing declines due to overfishing and other threats.

“It is therefore crucial that all countries in the region start collecting data on their shark fishery and develop some conservation measures,” she noted.

 

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