The fishy business of overfishing

Shari Eshkeli

Shaari Eshkeli

Dubai; Did you know well over half of the U.A.E’s fish catch is of species fished beyond sustainable levels including the ever-popular hammour? By overfishing, we mean catching more fish than what the oceans can sustain, therefore depleting the fish population. If you love your seafood, and want to continue eating it for years to come, then FooDiva urges you to read on.

Luckily the Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the WWF runs the ‘Choose Wisely’ consumer campaign to drive much-needed awareness of this alarming issue, but we need to spread the word further. By choosing to buy sustainable fish only, we can lower the demand for threatened species.

Choose Wisely has categorised the U.A.E’s fish species into three groups;

  • Red for heavily overfished stock (60% of fish species)
  • Orange for species exploited within sustainable levels
  • Green for stock not experiencing heavy fishing pressure








Jesh Um Al Hala

Jesh Um Al Hala








So what fish should you be looking for? Those with very colourful names; the pink ear emperor (shaari eshkeli), orange-spotted trevally (jesh um al hala), sordid sweetlips (yanam), yellow bar angelfish (anfooz), black-streaked monocle bream (ebzimi), two-bar seabream (faskar), ehrenbergs snapper (naiser), yellow fin seabream (shaam) and blackspotted rubberlip (hilali). You can download the wallet size consumer guide here – perfect for supermarket shopping.

Note, in most cases the fish are identified with their Arabic names.

Having trawled most of Dubai’s supermarkets, Carrefour, Choitrams and Lulu have the largest shoal of these fishies, as do each emirates’ fish markets. As for restaurants, many tend to import their fish but Hilton Dubai Creek’s Glasshouse and the Grand Hyatt have championed the local sustainability drive in Dubai, with even more hotels in Abu Dhabi embracing the initiative; the Sheratons, Meridiens, Fairmont, Radisson, Grand Millennium and Aloft. Anantara’s Desert Islands Resort is also a proud supporter. And Fujairah residents, Le Meridien Al Aqah is your best bet. We need more hotels and restaurants to review their fish menus.

Scott Price, Executive Chef of Hilton Dubai Creek is so passionate about fish sustainability, he went as far as to remove hammour from the entire hotel menus over a year ago. “My motto is if we don’t use it, guests can’t have it, and hopefully will choose something else. There are lots of other fish available and we use them on the weekly lunch menu in Glasshouse. 75 Dhs for two courses, and 95 Dhs for three.”

Choose Wisely also has its very own cookbook with recipes from U.A.E residents featuring sustainable fish. You can download the recipes here.

So next time you’re at the fishmmonger’s counter, or perusing a menu, do ask for one of the nine sustainable fishes – they are just as tasty, if not more. Feel free to share this post with your family, friends and restaurateurs – we need to spread the word.

Do you make a concerted effort to buy the less overfished species? Where do you buy your fish? Any other hotels/ restaurants serving sustainable fish?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x


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31 Responses to “The fishy business of overfishing”

  1. Irini Savva October 22, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. The UAE has some lovely local fish that most of expats don’t know about. If only more restaurants would serve sustainable fish…

    • FooDiva October 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      Well the more we blog about this, the more demand we create for sustainable fish, so let’s hope more restaurants take note. Great to see your recipe in the Choose Wisely cookbook 🙂

  2. Nausheen October 22, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This is such an important issue, and I’m so happy you wrote about it too. I buy fish on a weekly basis and sometimes it’s tough to navigate fish counter the with all the options. I’m printing out that pocket guide right now!

    • FooDiva October 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      I know the pocket size guide makes it so easy Nausheen, and I’ve had so much fun trying out all these fishies 🙂

  3. Sally - My Custard Pie October 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I picked up the choose wisely leaflet at a fish counter the other day to help me choose from the display. I couldn’t see a single green fish on there. The initiative needs to be enforced by the municipality as well as customers to work. The main fish on the slab was hammour.

    • FooDiva October 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm

      Which supermarket was this at Sally?

      • Sally - My Custard Pie October 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm

        Choitrams, Umm Suqeim

        • FooDiva October 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm

          The EWS are reading this post, so am sure they will take note. Out of all the supermarkets I visited in Dubai, Lulu in Barsha has the most comprehensive selection of sustainable fish.

  4. I Live in a Frying Pan October 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Love that you chose to post about this. I knew there were sources of info about this all around, but you’d made it easier by bringing it altogether in one post. Thank you FooDiva.

    • FooDiva October 23, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks Arva. Since I came across this campaign, I’ve been addicted to trying out these fishies…love my pocket book guide!

  5. Mita October 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    This is absolutely fabulous. I am so passionate about this that I have convinced my client, Sumo, to take off hammour and substitute it with local sustainable fish too. And honestly you can’t tell the difference.

    • FooDiva October 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      That’s fabulous news Mita. I must admit, hammour doesn’t make for good sashimi anyway, so Sumo is better off trying out these other fishes 🙂

  6. Katie Foster October 25, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I applaud you for promoting the EWS/WWF “Choose Wisely” campaign. I was made aware of it about a year ago and have steadfastly refused to eat the delicious Hammour . . and make mention of it when I see it on a menu. The sea provides us with such a delicious variety of fish that it would be a travesty if we lost even one species.

    • FooDiva October 27, 2011 at 1:41 am

      Thanks Katie, great to hear. You’d be surprised but not many people know of the Choose Wisely campaign, so we need to get the word out sooner rather than later .

  7. Mitzie Mee March 30, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Great post! 60% of the species are overfished? That’s even worse than I thought. At times, I’ve found it hard to navigate the restaurant’ menus and on questioning restaurant staff, I’ve heard 100 different excuses for still having hammour on the menu..

    • FooDiva May 31, 2016 at 8:43 am

      A VERY belated thank you Mitzie! I think the number is far bigger now 🙁

  8. Kate May 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Does anyone have a live link to the pocket guide? I think that site has gone down now 🙁

    • FooDiva May 31, 2016 at 8:43 am

      I am trying to find out what’s happened Kate. Stay tuned.

      • Ben August 13, 2016 at 7:08 pm

        Did you have any luck getting it to work? I am working on adding some fish to our database from the Middle East so it would be very useful.

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