Biosphere Expeditions, an international environmental research and nature conservation group, which has been conducting coral reef surveys in Musandam for the last seven years, in its latest report has said that the reefs are in excellent condition.
“So that is the good news about the area. The reefs appear to have escaped the worst impacts of the global El Nino event of 2015-16. This year is going to be the warmest on record that has destroyed many international reefs. This appears not to be the case at Musandam, and Oman is very lucky to be where it is, with the cooler waters coming from the east,” Jean-Luc Solandt, the report’s author and lead scientist of the team, told Muscat Daily.
But there are concerns from fishing in the area. “We believe that local fishing is reducing the average size and abundance of grouper populations, with indications that the numbers of larger breeding adults is diminishing,” he cautioned. The clearest observable human impacts at many of the sites were the use of fish traps to catch reef-associated species, handlining for tuna and gillnets set for reef - and pelagic-associated species.
“The most commonly occurring impact was from fishing gear and anchor damage, as the heaviest use of the entire Musandam Peninsula is from net and line fishing,” said Solandt. To help secure fishing in the area, the group recommends a number of no-take zones (NTZs) that could be set up in the northern part of the Peninsula.
“As coastal development in the area continues to grow, the lack of investment in fisheries management, regulation and enforcement will result in severe overfishing. The signs of this are already apparent. We therefore, strongly urge government to work with the local fishing fleet to designate, enforce and control fishing at the sites recommended in this report, and to clarify and communicate clearly a number of marine protection zones and regulations,” the report stated.
The report suggests a host of measures to protect fisheries in the area from minimum and maximum landing sizes for reef fish, particularly groupers, snappers, emperors and breams, minimum landing sizes for invertebrates (particularly molluscs), closed fishing during grouper spawning seasons and at spawning points.
“The problem is that fishers will fish everywhere until such time as the fish simply aren't there any more, then (they) have to move to further grounds to catch the same numbers,” he added. Solandt said that in terms of implementing management measures before the fish run out, the authorities with the cooperation of local fishermen should find out where the spawning aggregations are and protect them permanently (they are usually quite small) as NTZs.
“Only allow fishing after they are able to reach size of sexual maturity for males and females. Also don't land the largest fish, as these are the ones with the most spawn. To be sure to protect fish into the future, set up a network of no-take fishing zones. “The reefs in these sites also need to be protected, as these are the essential habitats of the grouper,” he said. Solandt also feels that there is a need to limit the fishing pressure by licensing the numbers of fishers, limiting boat size, engine size, the number of traps per fisher, the length of net each boat can deploy and not allowing any netting or traps within 500m of the coast. Solandt said that if the required measures are not implemented by the government, “the fish, and the fishermen will be affected”.