KOCHI: The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), one of the biggest fisheries research institutes in the world, is embarking on a detailed study on Indian shark landings, their status, and the biological aspects such as their age of maturity.
The study, being planned as part of the ‘National Plan of Action (NPOA) for Conservation and Management of Sharks in India’, will determine whether there has been a depletion of the species in the Indian seas in recent years, or not.
The study is expected to span over a period of one year. It comes after a law came into effect on September 14 banning the international trade in specimens of five shark species and all manta ray species, including their meat, gills and fins, unless it is done with permits and certificates showing that they have been harvested legally and in a sustainable way.
“It is easy to announce a ban, which will have far-reaching repercussions on the fishing community. The study will analyse the actual status of sharks in our seas,” P U Zacharia, principal scientist and head of the demersal fisheries division at the CMFRI, told ‘Express’.
Zachariah said the study would also check wether the shark landings have increased or decreased over a period of time, and whether fishing could be continued without impacting their number.
An earlier research by the CMFRI had found that the majority of the sharks that land along the shores are juveniles. Sharks are apex predators in the marine ecosystem, and have a slower reproduction cycle as they mature only after attaining 50 per cent of their maximum size. Any disturbance to the shark population could cause an imbalance to the marine ecosystem, according to the research.
“Though shrimp (frozen shrimp, cultured shrimp and vannamei) accounts for a major portion of India’s marine exports shark fin is an important export item, and a sudden ban would affect its prospects,” said Zacharia.
He said that the CMFRI has the database of shark landings, and that the new study would help get a real picture of whether there is a depletion of the species, or not.
“Reports suggest that Indian shark landings occurred largely in the form of incidental catch from ‘artisanal’ and trawler mixed-species fisheries. Shark fisheries have grown in the country mainly due to the expanded market for shark fins globally over the last few decades. This has, however, raised concerns about the sustainability of shark stocks in what is largely an unregulated sector. While it is difficult to measure the volume of Indian shark fin exports, evidence suggests that it has expanded rapidly,” say experts.
Sharks and manta rays are under the control of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which also applies to the oceanic whiteltip shark (carcharhinus longimanus), scalloped hammerhead shark (sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead shark (sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (sphyrna zygaena), porbeagle shark (lamna nasus) and manta rays (manta spp).