Arabian Sea Expedition Reports Findings [Archives:1998/22/Reportage]

June 1 1998

A preliminary report was made by the Arabian Seas Expedition on the scientific work executed by the visiting scientists between Aden and the Kamaran Archipelago, From 23 March to 16 April, 1998.
The expedition was made on board the sailing vessel “Breakwind” in order to meet the terms of references in the contracts on collecting and exporting biological materials between the Environmental Protection Council of Yemen (EPC) and the visiting scientists, which were duly signed by all parties on March 17th/18th. Commercial Prawn Trawling
In the last two months, the Salif port has seen an influx of commercial prawn trawlers. Some fifteen plus vessels are now in the Salif area waiting for permission or are already working. Some are from Saudi Arabia, and are very professional with sophisticated fish finding sonars and processing and freezing plants on board, which grade and package the prawns ready to be shipped out of Yemen via a “mother” ship out at sea that is then directed to Saudi Arabia.
The catch is usually large, each vessel often taking 3,000 – 7,000 kilos of fish per day (perhaps 3,000 kg being prawn), compared to the local fishermen who trawl with the traditional “Sambuk” and net 100-200 kilos over two to three days. The other vessels, it is believed Lebanese owned were previously operating from Aden.
This uncontrolled intensive commercial style of trawling is not sustainable and will rapidly lead to the destruction of shrimp and fish stocks in these waters. Especially as the large nets used to have a large by-catch and will throw away many other dead marine species into the sea. With no management policies in place such as quotas and restricted fishing seasons, juvenile stocks and under mature shrimp will be removed before re-stocking can take place.
This in turn will lead to socio-economic problems for the endemic people of the Tihama who have relied on fishing for their income for thousands of years. People will be forced to leave these areas in search for work in the cities and swell the already present problem of beggars on the streets.
It is understood that Yemen receives 20-40% of the revenue of the shrimp catch but this is often hard to control and regulate, if not impossible. So Yemen can expect short-term, minimal financial gain but long-term irreparable damage to the delicate and priceless natural resource that should be protected and preserved.
These fishing boats pay a relatively small amount for the annual license with little or no control to the amount or variety of fish they are catching. Discussions with local Yemeni fishermen from Salif suggest that they are also catching shrimps.
If these fisherman are allowed to continue in such a way, many areas in the next few years will be left with very little fish and will cause irreparable damage to this sensitive and valuable eco-system.
The Egyptian Red Sea offers thousands of miles of fishing and raises the question as to why they are coming all the way to Yemen. This is because this method of fishing has been occurring in Egypt uncontrolled for many years and fish stocks have been severely damaged.
Shark Fishing
Fishing of sharks for their fins is now becoming a worldwide problem and concern to many governments. In many cases this practice has been banned and sharks have been declared protected species. Large quantities of sharks are being removed from Yemeni waters and exported to the Far East. Fishermen are being paid high premiums for fins which are removed from the sharks (up to US $80 per kg for some species of sharks).
Thousands of sharks are being removed from the areas around the northern Yemeni Red Sea on a monthly basis. The majority of the sharks are thrown back into the sea with only their fins removed and the rest of the meat just wasted. The beaches of Uqban island for example are littered with dead sharks and rays which look and smell terrible and it is a great shame. The most popular method used to catch the sharks are large nets which are set at night and hauled in at first light with the sharks already dead in the nets. These nets not only trap the sharks but also catch other species such as rays, turtles and even dolphins.
In a matter of two to five years the shark population in Yemen will be severely affected in some places wiping out sharks altogether. This will inevitably have a detrimental affect on the marine eco-system as a whole which is very delicately balanced.
Aquarium Fish Collection
Several speed boats are operating from Salif with Philipino divers and are removing coral reef fish for the aquarium trade probably in Europe and the Gulf States. The divers net selected reef fish then bag them in oxygen and water to be sent to wholesalers. In Japan for example some rare species of coral reef fish can fetch up to US $400 each!
The main problem is that certain reef fish are targeted such as butterfly fish, angel fish and turkey fish. The fishermen will visit a reef continuously until all the species have been removed. Also a large percentage will die during transportation. So numbers caught are greatly exaggerated to compensate for this. Effectively this eliminates that species of fish from the reef with very little chance of re-establishing the population. With each boat removing 100-150 fish per day a complete area can be wiped out in just one day.
In most cases the fish are the prettier, more colourful species which if one considers the impact to areas which are planned for tourism, development will be greatly affected by the absence of the main attraction – colourful fish. Not to mention causing irreparable damage to the natural reef areas and an imbalance to the delicate eco-system.
Most identifications are preliminary so far, and need confirmation. A few specimens may represent new species, and need thorough investigation.
The coral collection revealed a relatively high diversity, which can be assumed as typical for stressed coral communities. Some previously unknown growth forms, probably representing new species, could be identified. Apart from this an interesting coral disease was documented. Surprisingly only 8-10 different species of soft corals were encountered in the area. The collection requires an in depth study.
The sponge collection consists of 18 species, most of which were documented underwater. As the Porifera of the Red Sea are in urgent need of a taxonomic revision, the collection should be made accessible to a specialist.
Various samples of different marine invertebrates were obtained by hand sampling, dredging, and under-water airlifts. They mainly represent the Crustacea and Mollusca phyla, and only very tentative identifications have been carried out so far. The samples need thorough identification by invertebrate specialists.
Dr. Philip C. Heestra (Ichthyologist)
Mr. Jerry Kemp (Coral Reef Ecologist)
Mr. Michael Eisinger (Coral Reef Ecologist)
Mr. Uwe Zajonz (Ichthyologist)