Date of Award

Winter 1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Aaron C. Henderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Abdelrahman Fowler

Third Advisor

Dr. Youssef Abu-Zaid


Large scale shark population declines have been documented worldwide due to overexploitation and the lack of adequate management frameworks to conserve shark stocks. This study aimed at gaining an understanding of the national shark fishery and the trade in shark products from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Data were collected from June 2010 to October 2012 through interviews with local fishermen, market and landing site surveys, fishery independent surveys, and stomach content analysis. Interviews with local fishermen (n=126) provided information on the fishery characteristics and established that sharks were increasingly targeted due to their high value in the global fin trade industry. Fishermen confirmed that changes in species composition, abundance, and size of sharks have been ongoing for over two decades raising concerns about the sustainability of this fishery. Catch data and genetic analyses established that 30 species of sharks were found in UAE Gulf waters. Landings were dominated by six species, Carcharhinus sorrah, Rhizoprionodon acutus, Carcharhinus limbatus, Loxodon macrorhinus, Carcharhinus dussumieri, and Mustelus mosis, representing over 90% of the total catches. Most of these species were small bodied sharks while large bodied species were mostly below the size of maturation possibly suggesting recruitment overfishing. A fishery independent survey of sharks in nearshore areas also indicated a low level of abundance of sharks in waters off Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Data on the relative abundance, distribution, and various aspects of the biology of all species encountered were collected. Furthermore, a dietary study of stomach contents of R. acutus and L. macrorhinus provided information on their feeding habits suggesting that they have viii different preferences for their prey. Trade data were limited to products from the UAE and Oman, including meat and fins, and indicated that the majority of species traded were at global risk of extinction based on IUCN Red List classification. Results from the various studies undertaken suggest that these species are likely to be overexploited and that management measures will need to take into account the precautionary principle. There is an urgent need to formulate effective conservation and management plans to prevent further declines in a number of species. The data gathered can now serve as a reference to managers, fisheries scientists, and other stakeholders to prioritize future research, as well as lay foundations for the development and implementation of national management plans for the protection and conservation of sharks.


I don‘t remember when my fascination with sharks actually started, but it seems like they have always held me captivated by their mystery and grace. Undertaking my own project on sharks was a dream come true and an experience I will never forget. It has inspired me to believe that anything can be done however impossible it may seem at times. The journey has been exhilarating and has allowed me to forge new friendships, take risks, and spend some incredible moments discovering sharks in the region, the true nature of the relationship between Emiratis, their heritage, the sea, and the animals that abound in it. None of this would have been possible without the help and support of the following organizations and people. So I would like to thank: - The United Arab Emirates University for providing me with my scholarship and funding for research, as well as my supervisors, Dr. Saif Al Ghais, Prof. Waleed Hamza and Dr. Aaron Henderson, for their training, support, thoughts, and insights in solving issues that arose throughout the project. - The Ministry of Environment and Water and the Marine Resources Center in Umm Al Quwain, especially Dr. Ibrahim Al Jamali, who facilitated my research by providing me with the necessary permits. - The various staff at the university including Prof. Manfred Malzahn, Dr. Abdulmajeed Al Khajeh, Dr. Khaled Al Amiri, Prof. Naim Anwar, Mohamed Shahid, Luna Jahan, Noura S. Al-Eisaei for assisting me in various administration matters; Dr. Thies Thieman for his advice; Dr. Mohamed Risk Enan, who first introduced me to xii the world of laboratory work. His understanding of genetics as well as his patience and support allowed me to understand and get interested in this aspect of conservation. - The individuals and organization that supported this project including the various chapters of the Natural History Group in the UAE (especially the Abu Dhabi chapter) for believing in me and supporting me in my research through a grant and much needed exposure; Major Ali S. Al Suwaidi, chairman of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group for always trusting in me, encouraging me to undertake this project and providing me with significant funds to continue my work; Thabit Al Abdelsalam, Stanley Hartmann, and Edwin Grandcourt, from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, who believed in my project, involved me in theirs, and are striving to gain a better understanding of sharks in the UAE; Ali Al Shaiba and Brendan Jack from Nakheel for ensuring I always had access to protected sites around the World Islands and the Palm Jebel Ali; the Pavilion Dive Center (especially Phil O‘Shea, Ernst Van der Poll, and captain Jerry), and Nautica Environmental Associates (Veryan Pappin, Richard Hornby, Edwin Palmer, and all the staff there) for sponsoring my project with a boat and giving me the opportunity to conduct my longlining surveys; Mahmood Shivji for believing in my project and the genetic analysis assistance of my Gulf samples; R. Hanner from Guelph University and the BOLD initiative for also trusting in my project and sequencing almost 500 of my samples; Julia Spaet from KAUST for collaborating with me on several aspects of this project and also analyzing some DNA samples; Dr. Ada Natoli for her help with the genetic analysis and her continuing support; and the Ford Motor Conservation and xiii Environmental Grants for awarding me a grant to complete some of the longlining work. - The various people who actually contributed to this thesis: Alex Carter for allowing me to access all journals at James Cook University: I would never have been able to write this thesis without you; Dr. Mark Beech for providing me with references, reports and books from this region that would have been impossible to find otherwise; Aisha A. Al Mesafri for her enthusiasm and assistance with the dissections and stomach content analysis; Keith D.P. Wilson for helping me identify fish pieces in the stomach contents; Stan Shea from the Bloom Association in Hong Kong for providing me with data on imports of shark products from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department; Maral K. Shiriqi from the Fujairah Municipality for taking the time to introduce me to the various fishermen cooperatives in Fujairah and Dibba. - Al Reeve and Alec Moore for exposing me to shark research in the region: your training, advice and help for both the market and longlining work is really appreciated. - Sonja Fordham, Nick Dulvy and Lucy Harrison, who were always at conferences when I most needed a new outlook on my project and to talk sharks. It was a privilege to share my work with you and share your enthusiasm for research. AND last but not least: - All the fishermen who graciously gave their time and shared their knowledge of sharks in the region. Their hospitality was unexpected yet wonderful and their help throughout the project was instrumental. Without them, I would still be struggling to obtain all the information I needed.

- My volunteers through the Gulf Elasmo Project: you are numerous and I would like to thank you all. You have endured a lot with my surveys; some of you have woken up before the crack of dawn to help me in Abu Dhabi, while others have given their evenings, and sometimes whole days, to assist me at landing sites across the country or on boat trips. You were all interested and supportive and I would never have been able to complete this PhD without you. I am highly indebted to all of you. I just hope that I was able to repay you by exposing you to the field of shark research and that you have left with a better understanding of the threats these magnificent creatures face. I also have to acknowledge some of my friends both overseas and here: Maro, Dajani, David (FEA), Simone, Houda, Mariam, Rkia, Nat, Ada, Don, Issa, Toto, and Alberto, who stood by me, made life more cheerful and helped me get through the rough patches. Thank you to all the people I met along the way, making this PhD journey one of the greatest times of my life. Finally, a thank you to my family: my sister Zeina and Fadi, brother Mazen and Dhabia, and especially my parents. They have never doubted my potential to accomplish what I said I would. Their unconditional support and faith in my ability has always been my driving force to achieve the possible.

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Biology Commons