India needs a national action plan soon to conserve sharks: scientists

Despite being a major shark-fishing country in the world, India is yet to formulate a national action plan for conservation and sustainable management of sharks, scientists say.

Sharks are highly vulnerable to indiscriminate fishing and the country’s catch is steadily declining over the years, experts add. A document, Guidance on National Plan of Action for Sharks in India, released in June this year by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) in Kochi, Kerala, highlighted the need for concerted efforts to protect sharks. CMFRI comes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

The document says that a national action plan should be formed as soon as possible after consultation with the governments of coastal states, research institutes, stakeholders and fishing communities.

The India story

India is the second largest shark-fishing country in the world after Indonesia. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, the country’s share in the global shark catch was about nine per cent during 2006-2009 with an average annual production of 54,614 tonnes.

On an average, the west coast of India contributes to 68 per cent of the annual shark landing, 66 per cent of skate landing and 28 per cent of ray landing.

The east coast contributes to 32 per cent of shark landing, 34 per cent of skate landing and 72 per cent of ray landing. Gujarat and Maharashtra are the major contributors followed by Kerala. These two north-west states, along with Daman & Diu, contribute to 57 per cent of shark landing in the country.

The southeast states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry contribute to 21 per cent of shark landing. Kerala, Karnataka and Goa contribute to 12 per cent while Odisha and West Bengal contribute to 10 per cent of the annual shark catch.

Decline in catch

Despite being a major shark-fishing country, India has been witnessing a steady decline in shark catch since 1998. According to CMFRI figures, landing of sharks (including rays and skates which are closely related to sharks)) in the country peaked to 74,943 tonnes in 1998 from 50,478 tonnes in 1991.

However, after that the landing started declining. In 2013, the annual shark landing in the country stood at 46,471 tonnes. Sharks constituted just 1. 2 per cent of the total marine landing in that year.

“The main cause (behind) this reduction in landing is indiscriminate exploitation of shark(s) in the past two decades,” says PU Zacharia, the head of the demersal fisheries division at CMFRI. He was one of the five members who prepared the document on sharks. An increase in the number and efficiency of large-mechanised fishing boats, expansion of fishing areas and deep-water fishing that lasts for several days at a stretch have led to a decline in shark catches, he adds.

Before mechanisation of boats, fishermen used to catch sharks, but it was not so indiscriminate, Zacharia says.

Commercial value

Sharks are among highly-valued fishes that have domestic as well as international demand. Utilisation of sharks in India is mostly in the form of shark meat with a good domestic market for fresh meat in the coastal states and in dried form in the southern states. The gross value of sharks that landed in the country’s coastal states in 2010 stood at Rs 278 crore.

Earlier, even when fishermen used to catch sharks in India, it was not so indiscriminate, the document reads. Shark fishing became targeted and indiscriminate when the demand for shark fins shot up in the international market.

To read the rest of this story, visit Down to Earth.

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