Endangered species for dinner: Hurghada hotels display sharks on buffet tables

Two hotels from the Pickalbatros chain in Hurghada have been flagrantly and ostentatiously flouting wildlife protection laws, serving up buffets of endangered fish and sharks. With the corpses of the sharks, rays and parrot fish hanging from the ceiling as a gruesome garnish, chefs stand by to cut and grill them to order, horrifying some customers.

By filing complaints and photographs of the carcasses of these otherwise beautiful aquatic species and sending them to the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), some tourists sounded the alarm on the blatant violation of animal protection regulations.

Ahmed Droubi, project manager at the conservation association, says that while one hotel displayed dead sharks as decoration, the other was far worse, with the chef cutting pieces of the fish upon demand and grilling them on the nearby barbecue.

“We received reports on three different occasions: on 31 October, on New Year’s Eve and on 3 January, every time accompanied by graphic pictures of the carcasses displayed, and we decided to take action against the management of these hotels,”  says Droubi, who is providing a lawyer with the documents in preparation for a lawsuit.

“I have established contact with the sales manager of the Pickalbatros chain to complain about their display of dead protected species," says Droubi. "And he replied in an email that the fish were covered in polyester!”

In substance, the email from the hotel management said that the fish and sharks on display were crude foam imitations covered by a layer of polyester. He added that the hotel does not have the ability to catch such fish, and that the only real ones are the smaller fish.

In 2004, the Red Sea province governor approved a law endorsed by HEPCA banning shark fishing in the sea, and the Agriculture Ministry followed suit the next year. This was a big victory for conservationists, and led to Egypt being honored as Shark Guardian of the Year in 2006.

According to the law, fishermen caught with sharks on board are subject to a large fine and the revocation of their fishing licenses for three years. But despite regulations, shark fishing is still rampant in the Red Sea.

Shark finning, which consists of capturing a shark and cutting off its fins at sea before throwing the animal back in the water to die, is a common practice. The fins, which are the most lucrative part of the shark, with the rest of the meat fetching only LE20 per kilo, are, for the most part, exported to southeast Asia, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy.

An environmental official who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the subject alleges that the General Authority of Fish Resources Development inspectors tasked with enforcing the ban are not doing their jobs. The source says this is because some of the inspectors own fishing boats and supplement their incomes by trading protected species like sharks, though their job requires them to man a post at each port and scrutinize catches to ensure that no protected species have been killed.

As the sea's top predators, sharks play an essential role in maintaining marine ecosystem balance. Droubi explains that if the shark population were to decrease rapidly, it would lead to a proliferation of medium-sized fish, which in turn would kill off smaller, herbivorous fish that feed on algae and keep its growth under control.

“These algae then proliferate and compete with the coral and develop in areas where coral should thrive; so taking out the top predator leads to the complete failure of the entire marine ecosystem,” he says.

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