India third largest shark catcher in world from 2007-2017: TRAFFIC report
Factors like excess fishing, overexploitation, high juvenile by-catch, low recovery of species caught, and lack of awareness also contribute to the high number of sharks caught in India in spite of a government ban.
India has been identified as the third-largest shark catcher in the world after Indonesia and Spain. According to a report by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC that was released on Wednesday, India caught an average of 67,391 metric tonnes (MT) of sharks every year, between 2007 and 2017. While catching protected species of sharks is prohibited in India, shark fishing in general is legal.
The annual estimates by TRAFFIC, collated using UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) data, contrasted with the annual data from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research - Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), which estimates 21,154 tonnes of sharks were caught along the Indian coastline in 2018, 19,777 tonnes in 2017, and 23,002 tonnes in 2016.
TRAFFIC’s report found Indonesia caught the most sharks – with an annual average of 1,10,737 MT– followed by Spain (78,443 MT) and India (67,391 MT). In its 2013 study, TRAFFIC had found that between 2002 and 2011, India ranked second after Indonesia in terms of global catches of sharks. Spain occupied the third spot. “It is imperative that India moves forward with a fully implemented national action plan for sharks to enable better understanding of what catches are occurring and to address overfishing of particularly vulnerable species,” said Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s senior advisor on fisheries trade and traceability, and co-author of the report.
Marine experts said sharks are primarily caught to illegally supply fins for shark fin soup and traditional medicines to South East Asian markets. E Vivekanandan, former principal scientist at CMFRI, said, “Value of the shark fin ranges between Rs1,000 to ₹15,000 per kg in the international market, making it a lucrative clandestine business.”
Factors like excess fishing, overexploitation, high juvenile by-catch, low recovery of species caught, and lack of awareness also contribute to the high number of sharks caught in India in spite of a government ban. Catching protected species is prohibited by law and shark fin export was banned by the ministry of commerce and industry in 2015 when shark landings were the highest in eight years at 23,595 MT, according to CMFRI.
TRAFFIC’s report comes two weeks after 18 shark species found along the Indian coastline – including the guitarfish, wedgefish and mako sharks – were given increased protection from illegal shark fin trade by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Sant said India needed to ensure vessels landing their catch along Indian ports complied with management measures. For example, sharks landed should have their fins attached. “Such measures are designed to help monitor shark populations, and are a prerequisite to ensure traceability of shark products from catcher to consumer,” he said.
A senior official from the department of fisheries said, “The draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2019 has special provisions for the protection of endangered, threatened and overexploited species. It pertains to the development of location-wise fisheries management plans based on inputs from states, which will boost conservation of shark species and limit illegal fin trade.” The bill is in the public domain for discussions and is likely to be finalised by this year end.
Five countries topped the list of catchers with a combined tally of 3,33,952 MT sharks caught on average each year. Shark fin consumption in East Asia, traditionally eaten as a soup during celebratory occasions, is a key driver of trade. An average of 16,177 mt per year of shark fin products (with an average value of USD294 million per year) were reported as imported worldwide during 2000–2016.
(Source: An overview of major shark traders, catchers, and species by wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic)
TRAFFIC INTERNATIONAL SPEAKS
“The Indian Ocean is a hugely important region for the global fishing industry. Fishing activities on the high seas there are governed by regional fisheries management organisations (the South Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement and Indian Ocean Tuna Commission), while some shark species caught there - either targeted or as secondary catch - are listed within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). They include Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) and Oceanic Whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus). Such species have permitting requirements regarding their international trade which India, as a Party to CITES, must comply with and help enforce.”
Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC’s senior advisor on fisheries trade and traceability who co-authored the report
THE FIN TRADE
“After catching protected shark species, rather than reporting it to the state fisheries or forest department, fishermen remove the fin, scale the skin, and finally collect a bone-like ray that is used as soup sticks in China and other South East 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.”
E Vivekanandan, former principal scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute
ENDANGERED SPECIES AS PER WILDLIFE PROTECTION ACT AND IUCN
The species that are protected in India through the are - Whale shark (Rhincodon typus), Knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidate), Pondicherry shark (Carcharhinus hemiodon), Gangetic shark (Glyphis gangeticus), Speartooth shark (Glyphis glyphis), Ganges stingray (Himantura fluviatiles), Freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon), Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron), Giant guitarfish (Rhynchobatus djiddensis), Porcupine ray (Urogymnus asperrimus).
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 lower lobe tail gives the superior quality fin needles.
Fin needles have very high nitrogen content, very low ash and no oil content and no non-protein nitrogen as compared to flesh.
The pigeye, blacktip, sandbar, and hammerhead sharks are provide best quality and big fin. All the internal organs like heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, spleen, intestine, stomach and cartilage of the shark species are used as medicines, antimicrobial activity against the bacteria and yeast, and are also used as anti-aging supplements.
(Source: Marine Biodiversity division of CMFRI, Kochi)