On Saturday, fish traders at south Mumbai’s Crawford market were in for a surprise -- among the catch was a 2.5ft-long rare southern ocean sunfish. While the fish did not find a buyer, marine biologists said that rare and protected fish species are being caught along the Mumbai coastline.
Rare species like Tiger Shark, Whale shark, giant grouper, sting rays and manta rays, have been accidentally trapped by fishermen along the Mumbai’s coastline. In March, a rare 15ft Long-comb sawfish was washed ashore the Vijaydurg beach in Sindhudurg. The snout of the critically endangered fish, which is shaped like a saw with 31 teeth, got stuck in a gillnet.
Fishermen attribute the rise to the use of gillnets -- a fishing net hung vertically to trap fish by their gills -- and trawl net – large horizontal nets spread across the ocean floor-- almost 50 to 70 nautical miles from the coast.
- Tiger Shark
- · Whale shark
- · Giant grouper
- · Sting rays
- · Manta rays
- · Sawfish
- · Southern ocean sunfish
“The rare species have been caught by fishermen travelling from Ferry Wharf (Bhaucha Dhakka) to about 70 nautical miles from the coastline,” said Ganesh B Nakhawa, chairman, Maharashtra Purse Seine fishermen welfare association. “We request fishermen across the state to either send these protected species back to the sea or hand them over to scientists for research.”
“Trade of protected marine species, both in the domestic and foreign market, is banned. We will keep a close watch on overfishing, targeted fishing to identify the violators,” says N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forests, state mangrove cell
Vasudevan said none of the rare species found buyers as people were unsure of their value. “We never got such a huge fish for sale. It led to a lot of curiosity in the fish market,” said Rizwan Machiwala, fish trader from Crawford market, south Mumbai about the sunfish. “The fishermen told us he caught the fish accidentally. However, nobody was willing to buy it.”
Species termed protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 or ‘critically endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority on the status of the natural world, need to be protected.
Experts said there was a rise in overfishing along the Maharashtra coastline, which needs to be curbed. “ While the small fish generally caught at sea lay 10,000 eggs annually, the sunfish or the sharks lay a maximum of 10 eggs a year,” said Vinay Deshmukh, marine biologist and former chief scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). “If large sharks are pulled out of deep waters, it will be a major blow to their already depleting population.”