Juvenile fishing: Eating ocean fish into extinction
Research by the Mangrove and Marine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation of Maharashtra says illegal fishing methods such as using banned nets are killing juveniles that have not had a chance to breedUpdated: Jun 17, 2019 00:54 IST
Last week, this newspaper reported about two studies that have warned that fish populations along Maharashtra’s coast could collapse because of overfishing and killing of juvenile fish.
Research by the Mangrove and Marine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation of Maharashtra says that illegal fishing methods — such as using banned nets — are killing juveniles that have not had a chance to breed. Many of these species are listed as threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list.
Another study by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) - Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), estimates that Maharashtra, a leading marine fish producers in the country with 2.8 lakh tonnes of fish landings in 2018, could be losing ₹686 crore annually because juvenile fish were not allowed to grow to their full size.
Juveniles formed 40% of the pomfret catch, with the rate rising to 56.2% in Mumbai. In the case of mackerel (bangda), 40 to 50% of the landings comprised of juveniles. Around 30-40% of the Seer fish, locally called surmai, and 23 to 28% of the catfish, or shingada, caught in Maharashtra were juveniles.
To reduce the chances of juvenile fish from getting caught, the government mandates the use of nets that have 40mm square mesh codends. It has banned diamond-shaped nets with smaller meshes of 20-25mm. Fishermen said this ban is blatantly ignored.
Marine biologist E Vivekanandan, a member of the research and advisory committee of CMFRI, said many countries have banned the killing of juvenile fish.
“They do this by asking fishermen to use larger mesh that catches only larger fish. Also, markets are not allowed to buy and sell juvenile fish. We do not have any such restriction,” he said. Absence of such rules means that markets in Mumbai flagrantly sell juvenile pomfret and shark. Vivekanandan said that it is difficult to export juvenile fish as many countries ban the trade.
“The problem is the domestic market,” said Vivekanandan. “It is alarming. Every fish should be allowed to mature and breed once in its lifetime. If this does not happen, the population will start declining.”
In the face of such brazen violation of rules by fishermen, marine conservationists have been urging citizens to take the responsibility of choosing sustainable sources of seafood.
In the United Kingdom, marine conservation groups have created a seafood directory that helps restaurants to select fish sourced from sustainable stocks. ‘Red-rated’ fish, which include bluefin tuna, wild Atlantic salmon and king prawns, are off menus.
Eating fish that are caught from sustainable stocks will tackle overfishing and juvenile killing, which is threatening marine species to extinction.
In India, there are groups like ‘Know Your Fish’ that help people avoid certain species during the breeding season. For instance, silver pomfret can be avoided in April and May. Bombay duck should not be bought between October and March.
Mayuresh Gangal, a researcher from oceans and coasts programme of Nature Conservation Foundation, and one of the founders of ‘Know Your Fish’, said they started with encouraging restaurants to incorporate their recommendations in their menus and are also focusing on using social media to sensitise seafood consumers.
“On social media, it is easy for us to provide people with a calendar of when to eat a fish, and it seems to be working,” said Gangal, who added that a survey with their social media followers last year showed that 7% followed their recommendation regularly.
Gangal says that policymakers are beginning to understand the issue. “We do have some regulations about fishing and if implemented, they can certainly give us a decent headway in dealing with the overfishing issue,” he says.
“Also, species of fish do not function in isolation; they are dependent on other species and habitat directly and indirectly. The quicker we internalise these facts into a process of policymaking, better will we be in dealing with the overfishing issue.”
First Published: Jun 17, 2019 00:53 IST