SHARKS roaming Bah-rain's waters will be better protected due to a planned new clampdown on overfishing.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between the UK-based Shark Conservation Society (SCS) and the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife to carry out a shark survey expedition next year.
Similar studies have already been carried out by SCS in Kuwaiti and Qatari waters.
According to research carried out by the SCS, there are 30 to 35 types of shark found in the Gulf.
The most common species of shark found near Bahrain are white cheek sharks, grey sharks and milk sharks.
But due to overfishing, which has drastically reduced the shark population in the region, Bahrain is now home to fewer of these sea creatures, according to commission director-general Dr Jassim Al Qaseer.
"Years ago there used to be many sharks in our waters but the number has declined hugely as more fishermen have caught them for food, particularly the medium-sized species," he said.
"We must protect them from overfishing as many fishermen don't care what kind of shark they catch, as long as they manage to catch something and bring it in to sell."
Numbers of larger sharks such as hammerheads, tiger sharks and bull sharks are depleting due to overfishing.
Dr Al Qaseer said he realised that imposing regulations on Bahrain's beleaguered fishing industry is not easy.
"Fishermen today catch any type of fish so that they have something to bring back to shore, even the smallest of fish which then do not have the chance to develop properly," he told the GDN. "These actually should be thrown back into the sea."
The director-general said there were two ways of stopping this kind of fishing which was proving detrimental to fish stocks around Bahrain.
"We must restrict the type of fishing equipment used such as trawling lines and nets," he said.
"Also the Coastguard must check each fishing boat out at sea to ensure that such fishing gear is not being used and that sharks aren't being caught and left in the bottom of boats to be taken to shore."
Unless strict legislation is enforced where fines can be imposed and court orders issued, fishermen will only ignore regulations and continue to catch sharks and underdeveloped fish, warned Dr Al Qaseer.
He believes educating the public about sharks and their importance to the eco-system is perhaps a bigger task than restricting fishing activities.
"People are very afraid of sharks and we must educate them that these creatures are very important to us," he said.
"In the Gulf we do not have the aggressive and dangerous sharks that people are scared of and there have been only two shark attacks in Bahrain which were recorded years ago.
"The fishermen as well as the public need to be taught how these marine animals are vital to us humans and the eco-system, as they maintain the quality of fish in the sea."
Sharks help maintain regular levels of sea life and a reduction of sharks in the sea means those are disrupted.
Other species such as smaller fish and rays then become more abundant, which then consume larger amounts of smaller fish and shellfish and destroying natural habitats at a faster pace.
Up to 70 million sharks are killed around the world each year, predominantly to supply shark fins for soup, a delicacy in the South-East Asia.
The survey to be carried out in Bahrain will also establish greater protection for the rare marine animal, the Green Sawfish, which is critically endangered in Bahrain.
"These are very rare in Bahrain, partially because people catch them for food, but predominantly because fishermen catch them, cut off their unusual saw-like noses for a souvenir and throw the bodies back into the water," said Dr Al Qaseer.
"This survey next year and consequent regulations hopefully will ensure that this awful practice is stopped."
The number of sharks in the Gulf is unknown as until the SCS started its operations in the region in 2008 and specific species and populations of shark had never been recorded.
However, based on observational evidence, the population of sharks in the Gulf has declined dramatically, said SCS chairman Richard Peirce who will lead Bahrain's expedition next April.
He said the increase of manmade objects in the sea has had a huge impact on the swordfish's existence, as its unusual nose gets caught in fishing nets and lines.
Mr Peirce and the SCS hope to introduce nursing areas for sharks in the Gulf where for three months certain areas would be closed for fishing.
"This will allow pups (young sharks) to develop properly without the danger of being caught at a young age," said the shark-enthusiast, based in Cornwall, England.
The proposal aims to guarantee the safety of endangered fish within Bahrain's waters in line with efforts by other GCC states to regulate fishing practices.