Anecdotal evidence suggests that sharks are being targeted in the United Arab Emirates artisanal fishery. However, little information is available on this fishery and baseline information is essential for understanding its impact on shark populations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf, and for managing sharks in this region.The aim of this study was to investigate the artisanal shark fishery and gain an insight into the social, motivational and economic drivers behind it. Fishery characteristics were examined and the effect of fishing on local shark stocks assessed by interviewing Emirati fishermen across the country (n = 126).Sharks were found to be increasingly targeted owing to their high value in the global fin trade industry. The majority of fishermen (80%) confirmed that changes in species composition, abundance and sizes of sharks have been continuing for more than two decades, mainly because of overfishing, raising concerns about the sustainability of this fishery.Results suggest that sharks 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 long-term and effective conservation and management plans to prevent further declines in a number of species.Additional efforts should be directed to quantify the ecological implications of the observed changes and determine if these are aggravated by the life-history traits of the fished species. Such implications should be considered when assessing the sustainability of local fisheries.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. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.