Identifying shark species from its fin has become easier for enforcement agencies as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released a software, iSharkFin, for the purpose.
The software package, which is hailed as a conservation and management tool, can identify 42 species, including the 14 found in Indian waters. The application, developed by the FAO in collaboration with the University of Vigo, can identify 35 species from dorsal fins and 7 from pectoral fins.
The Indian species, which can be identified using the software included the silky shark, oceanic whitetip shark, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, and whale shark that are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), says K.K. Bineesh, an IUCN specialist in sharks.
Besides CITES, the Wildlife Protection Act has extended protection to eight shark species and two Ray varieties as their population has been challenged by fishing. Shark fin constitutes a major chunk of the marine export from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Though a few species have been protected by law, there are no provisions to identify that the banned species are caught, killed and fins exported, says Dr. Bineesh.
Last year, 1,765 tonnes of shark was caught and brought to the Kochi harbour by Kerala fishermen. There is no effective mechanism to ensure that protected shark species are not fished, says N.G. K. Pillai, emeritus scientist of the Centre for Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi.
Though sharks are not targeted by Kerala fishermen, they are caught in West Coast. Whale sharks accidentally get caught in Kerala cost, he says.
A communication issued by CITES says the software uses machine learning techniques to identify shark species from shark fin shapes.