Our sharks in deep waters

November 21, 2014 11:58 am | Updated 11:58 am IST - Mangaluru

Overfishing along India’s coastline has brought down the shark population by a whopping 43 per cent in the last decade, threatening to wipe out 17 species from these seas.

Experts at the ‘Third Mission on Conservation of Sharks’ held here on Thursday, presented these findings and called for the creation of marine sanctuaries for these endangered creatures.

An analysis of shark catch at harbours and ports reveals that over 90 per cent of sharks caught were below maturity age: that is, they were killed before they had a chance to breed, said Shobha J.K., senior scientist, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute – Chennai. The biggest impact of over-fishing will be on around 17 species of sharks, which could potentially wipe out their population, she said.

To protect shark species — many of which are listed as ‘endangered’ — the institute is looking to define a “minimum size” per species, so that when it is caught, fishermen can determine if the shark has attained maturity level or not. The institute is also looking at means to protect specific breeding grounds of sharks.

“Using the knowledge of fishermen, we can identify areas and seasons that are conducive for shark breeding. We can then set about protecting these sites,” said Ms. Shobha. Scientists pointed out that the rate of fishing far exceeds the breeding rate of sharks, and this was among the reasons for the estimated 43 per cent decline in shark population in the waters around the country, between 2001-2011.

As many as 10 species of sharks and manta rays have already been added to Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, being critically endangered, said M.L. Srivastava, Deputy Inspector-General of Forests (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change. However, with the adoption of CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) resolutions of September, there will be tighter regulation on export of sharks and shark fins, he said.

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