Dubai, 5th December 2011
Okay, so I admit it. I am a fish-aholic. Given half a chance, I would have fish every day; my husband has given up asking what type of restaurant I would prefer to go to as the answer is always ‘something fishy’, and I have even been known to order fish in a steak restaurant. What to do? Give me a lovely grilled hammour or a pan-fried halibut, or even better, a chunk of monkfish, and I am in seventh heaven.
But, alas, I am a marine biologist as well. No, I don’t work as one, but studied Fish and Marine Biology at uni, and am still interested in the subject. I don’t just eat fish, I love to look at them as well and if there is an aquarium to be had anywhere I am travelling to, I’m there.
So, I sadly know that my love for fish is a double-edged sword. Even, ahem, 20 years ago at uni, we analysed charts that showed quite clearly that there were not enough fish in the sea to sustain the fisheries and general demand. Now, there obviously are even less.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 80 per cent of the world’s main fish stocks are considered to be either fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Similarly, the Arabian Gulf around the UAE has suffered a sharp decline in key fish stock, plummeting 80 per cent over the past three decades. Time is running out.
My favourite local fish, hammour, a grouper, is one of those threatened and it should not be my favourite fish any longer… But it’s not easy to say ‘no’.
The Choose Wisely Campaign, run by the Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), has been set up to raise awareness about the declining number of fish in our seas.
As quoted in Time Out Dubai, EWS-WWF conservation officer Darren Hiltz explains: “The EWS-WWF Sustainable Fisheries Project and the Choose Wisely Campaign are focusing on the UAE at present, with information provided on local species fished in UAE waters.” Since its launch in April 2010, the project has focused on the Choose Wisely awareness campaign. It aims to promote well-managed, healthy fisheries and provide UAE residents with specific, practical steps they can take to reduce fishing pressure on vulnerable species that are being rapidly depleted.
The EWS has categorised 22 species of local fish into three lists according to their level of sustainability: the red list features species that could really do without being eaten (the hammour sadly being no. 1); the orange list includes species that are still within sustainability levels, but won’t be for long, while the green list includes sustainable options that the EWS are encouraging consumers to choose. See the list here.
But at least some restaurants are trying to make it easier for piscivores ( is that a word? Should be…) like me. Last weekend I had dinner at the Westin Mina Seyahi’s Hunter’s Room & Grill, the steakhouse, and yes, I ordered fish. There were only two on the menu, and both were sustainable. Underneath the somewhat small fish section (okay, okay, I know it was a steak house…) was a brief but adequate explanation about the campaign and the reasoning behind trying only to serve sustainable fish.
Equally, my favourite Italian in Dubai, Jamie’s Italian, is reportedly upholding the British celebrity chef’s strong commitment to sustainability with a menu designed around sustainable fish sources available in the market throughout the year. ‘At Jamie’s Italian, we do not use endangered species, such as blue-fin tuna, Atlantic cod, shark fin, sole, halibut, plaice, hammour and swordfish,’ says a representative of the restaurant’s Festival City branch. ‘People do ask for the endangered, overfished hammour, and as a result we try to educate our customers and give enough information so they can support our ethos against using unsustainable fish.’
Luckily I don’t have a problem at Jamie’s, because when it comes to truffle pasta, the fish often doesn’t get a look in…
Want to know more? Read up on the campaign here.