In a short span of 13 months, from February 2013, as many as 15 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have been slaughtered in the Godavari region. The figure is quite alarming, as the official records indicate that the number of giant fish being slaughtered in a period of 100 years from 1890 was 20. The whale shark is the biggest fish (largest living non-mammalian vertebrate) in the world reaching lengths of 40 feet (12 meters) or more and a weight of more than 21.5 metric tonnes.
Moreover, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the species vulnerable as it is protected as Schedule-I species on a par with tiger under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
This Act envisages award of stringent punishment including imprisonment up to seven years to those found guilty of poaching and illegal trading of this animal and its products.
It is a target fishery in many parts of the world. According to records, the fish was killed in large numbers in Gujarat during the 1990s. But, in the Godavari region, it is not target fishery. If it is caught, the massive fish is dragged to the land and slaughtered.
If this fish is caught, the fishermen lose fishing nets worth Rs.30,000 to Rs. 40,000, besides spending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 on its cutting. As it has less meat and fin value than the other sharks, it fetches a meagre amount to the fishermen.
The fishermen, however, prefer to kill in the event of catching it. Members of fishermen community said one shark of 22 ft was sold for Rs.15,000 in Bhairavapalem last year.
Another 15ft shark was sold for Rs. 10,000 at Kumbhabhishekam in Kakinada in March this year.
No incentive “Most of the fishermen are unaware of the provisions put in place by the government for protecting sharks. The fishermen are sure that they will any way lose their nets in the event of the mammoth caught in them. That is why they are resorting to kill it,” says P. Sathiyaselvam, conservation biologist of the EGREE Foundation.
In Gujarat, he said, fishermen are rewarded with a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 if they release the giant fish from the net whenever caught in the net.
Emulating the scheme, the foundation launched a pilot project in the district and provided log books to 52 mechanised fishing boats.
“The main idea is to stop killing of sharks and assess the losses incurred to the fishermen. We are also working on the possibility of introducing the compensation scheme here,” Mr. Selvam explains.