Sharks bear brunt of seasonal fishing frenzy

Even as the Andaman and Nicobar coast is witnessing the June-end whirl of shark fishing activity, the local administration and conservationists are at harpoons drawn. The row has intensified, with reports of over-fishing by local fisherfolk and illegal trawling by their Thai counterparts pouring in. It may be noted that shark fishing is banned on the islands from July to October

 
By Sanjib Kumar Roy
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

In the jaws of extinction (Credit: K Ganeshan)even as the Andaman and Nicobar coast is witnessing the June-end whirl of shark fishing activity, the local administration and conservationists are at harpoons drawn. The row has intensified, with reports of over-fishing by local fisherfolk and illegal trawling by their Thai counterparts pouring in. It may be noted that shark fishing is banned on the islands from July to October.

While local officials claim that fishing of only 2,500 tonnes of sharks is allowed annually in the region, those opposed to the activity allege that there has been a spurt in the activity lately. The latter fear that at this rate the already dwindling shark population will be wiped out soon.

Shark fishing increased significantly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands after the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) eased a six-month ban on it in December 2001. The curbs were earlier in force from July to December. Though the rules were ostensibly relaxed to allow small-scale and traditional fisherfolk to operate at subsistence levels, conservationists describe the move as a sell-out to the exporters' lobby. Following the moef directive, the Andaman and Nicobar administration issued fresh licences for fishing in October 2002. The notification, however, excludes a few rare species listed in schedule-i of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Experts point out that the clampdown on shark fin trade in the Pacific Ocean rim countries is a cause for concern. By default the focus has shifted to India, making it one of the largest exporters of the product. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. The local administration and fisherfolk, too, are capitalising on the situation. In fact, shark meat trade has become a major revenue earner for the islands.

From November 2002 to June 2003, the union territory (ut) received around Rs 22 lakh as royalty from the sale of about 2 lakh kilogrammes (kg) of shark meat and more than 4,350 kg of fins. "Legal fishing will not only be a means of livelihood for local fisherfolk, it will also spur them to keep a check on poaching in our waters," contends Nagesh Ram, director of the ut's fisheries department. A senior fisheries department official further asserts that among India's 57 shark species, those listed as endangered are not found in the region.

Environmentalists agree that sharks can be a profitable source of income -- only their approach differs. "A few Southeast Asian countries are using sharks as a tourist attraction instead of killing and exporting them," observes Subhasis Ray, general secretary of Healthy Environment by Less Pollution, a local non-governmental organisation. Conservationist Samir Acharya, meanwhile, cites a recent Australian study to prove that over-fishing of sharks disturbs marine ecology.

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