MumbaiOf the 3,086 tonnes of sharks caught in Maharashtra in 2017, a fifth belonged to the category of protected species, revealed data from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). Of the 100 types of species found near Indian coasts, 10 are listed under schedule 1 (protected species) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “The issue with protected species is that many violations go unreported owing to lack of awareness about the law,” said Akhilesh K V, scientist, CMFRI Mumbai and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shark specialist group. Wildlife trade monitoring group, TRAFFIC India, said that the catch can be attributed to the thriving international shark fin trade. In 2013, the union environment ministry had banned hunting of sharks for fins. “Prior to this, the fins would be cut off and the sharks would be thrown back into sea,” said Saket Badola, head, TRAFFIC India. In 2015, shark fin export was banned.“However, this activity still prevails in major coastal areas in India, including Maharashtra,” said E Vivekanandan, former principal scientist and current national consultant at CMFRI. The value of shark fin ranges from ₹1,000 to ₹5,000 per kg for unprotected species and goes as high as ₹15,000 for protected species, added Vivekanandan.Scientists said that the protected species are caught not only by trawling but through multiple combinations such as gill nets, longline fishing and purse seine nets. “Apart from fins, there is a high demand in the domestic market for both salted and dried varieties. We are afraid that an illegal black market has emerged after the blanket ban on shark fin export from India. We have been asked to identify fishery products seized by port officials and customs,” said Akhilesh. A cause for concern is the rampant hunting of juvenile sharks, said scientists. “Hammerhead sharks can grow to 3-4 metres. In Maharashtra we are catching young ones of 2-3 foot size,” said Akhilesh. Groups representing fishermen said the city is a hub for collection and export of shark fins. “Export of fins takes place regularly from Sewri Bunder,” said Ganesh Nakhawa, chairman, Maharashtra Purse Seine Fishermen Welfare Association.According to CMFRI, annual shark landings in India range from 23,000 to 25,000 tonnes. TRAFFIC India said the country catches over 75,000 tonnes of sharks on an average every year.