Decline in shark species due to flawed fishing practices, fin trade: ReportUpdated: Aug 01, 2020 22:53 IST
Unsustainable fishing practices, excessive juvenile bycatch and illegal shark fin trade are leading to a rapid decline of threatened, vulnerable, and critically endangered sharks and allied species.
A report published by the Mangrove Foundation under the state forest department (mangrove cell) has documented such practices along commercially important landing sites, where high-density of elasmobranch population along the Maharashtra coast was leading to overall habitat degradation at fishing grounds.
Elasmobranchs are sharks, skates, rays and sawfish that have a skeleton made of cartilage instead of bone. Their distribution ranges from near-shore regions to the deep oceanic waters.
Rajendra Jadhav, joint commissioner, state fisheries department said, “This is an extremely serious issue. We will call for exact details from the forest department and see to it that immediate action is taken for the shark fin trade while sensitising fishers against juvenile fish catch is being undertaken.”
The report identified a fish landing centre in Satpati, Palghar where the capture of eight shark species, including some part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, saw their fins removed and kept out to dry. Though fishers admitted they were stored for trade, it was not clear whether these fins were meant for export purposes.
Shark fin import and export was banned by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 2015.
“Satpati is famous for pomfret fisheries that operate using gillnet gear. Different mesh sizes lead to a variety of sharks getting caught. Locals separate their meat, body parts and fin. When we asked where fins are sold, they refused to share the information,” said Dhanashree Bagade, author of the report and marine biologist, Mangrove Foundation. “Similar reports have been received from Malvan but we did not find proof of such activities.”
Shark fishing is not illegal in India. Only catching protected species (10 sharks – see box) are prohibited by law, and are considered illegal.
The study identified 34 elasmobranch species - 14 sharks, 15 rays and five species of wedges, sawfish and guitarfish - being caught across Satpati, Sassoon Dock, New Ferry Wharf, and Versova in Mumbai, Alibag in Raigad, Harnai in Ratnagiri and Malvan in Sindhudurg along the Maharashtra coast including Mumbai.
“Maximum quantity was identified across fish landing centres in Mumbai owing to the highest number of boats with fishing grounds from south Ratnagiri to the Gujarat coast. Species including Hammerhead shark and Blacktip shark juveniles were spotted at Mumbai, Malvan, and Harnai,” said Bagade.
Of 34 species caught, 31 were identified by marine biologists. Of these, eight species each fell under vulnerable, endangered, and near-threatened categories of the IUCN Regional Red List while one species of guitarfish (schedule I under WPA) was critically endangered.
“The most striking factor was 18 of the 31 species caught or 58% were juvenile elasmobranchs,” said Bagade. The study was undertaken between April and December 2019.
Virendra Tiwari, additional principal chief conservator of forest (Mangrove Cell) said, “There is a need for capacity building and sensitisation within the fishing community. More research on affected habitats and species risk is needed, which our small grants research projects are looking into.”
Experts said conservation actions require stakeholder involvement and practical measures. “By catching threatened fauna and increasing juvenile catch is a threat to vulnerable marine fisheries of Maharashtra. Mitigations are limited or challenging and don’t apply to all species or all fishing gear together. We have to think about practical options without affecting livelihood taking all stakeholders on board,” said Anulekshmi Chellappan, scientist-in-charge, CMFRI Mumbai.
WHY SHARK FINS?
Shark-fins are one of the most luxurious fish products in the world that get higher prices in the export market. The white fins gave a superior yield than the black fins. Fins are used as shark fin soup, a delicacy in China and various parts of South-East Asia. “The value of the shark fin ranges between Rs.1000 to Rs.15,000 per kg in the international market, making it a lucrative clandestine business. After catching protected shark species, fishermen remove the fin, scale the skin, and finally collect a bone-like ray that is used as soup sticks in China and other Southeast Asian countries, mostly to enhance flavour. The rays are packed in stacks and shown as wood so they are not detected by customs or coast guard. The value of the fin for ranges from Rs.1000 – 5000 for sharks that are allowed to be caught, and fins of protected schedule 1 species sells as high as Rs.15,000 since they are protected along Indian waters,” said E Vivekandanan, former principal scientist and current national consultant at CMFRI.
YEAR WISE SHARK LANDINGS IN MAHARASHTRA
Maharashtra witnessed its lowest annual fish catch in 45 years in 2019, as per the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). Shark captures witnessed a 43% drop from 2018. Other elasmobranch species caught include Skates, rays, eels, and catfish. They are exploited by a variety of fishing gears like gill nets, long lines and trawls along the Indian coast by both traditional and mechanised sectors. While guitarfish and wedge fish capture marginally increased while 446.5-ton rays were caught. The drop in catch was owing to extreme weather events and successive cyclones in the Arabian Sea that reduced fish catch day.
2019 - 1299 tons
2018 - 2295 tons
2017 – 3086 tons
2016 – 3031 tons
2015 – 3548 tons
2014 – 4780 tons
2013 – 4550 tons
SPECIES AT RISK
Protected under Wildlife laws: Whale sharks, tiger sharks, white sharks, Speartooth sharks, and other elasmobranch species such as hammerhead sharks, pointed sawfish, Largetooth sawfish, Longcomb sawfish, and guitarfish.
14 species at risk according to the study: Spadenose shark, Tiger shark, Grey dog shark, Milk dog shark, Black tip shark, Spot tail shark, Bull shark, Scalloped Hammerhead shark, Hard nose shark, Grey bamboo shark, Ridgeback catshark, Thresher shark, Fawn shark, Graceful shark.
(Source: Mangrove Foundation Research)