Archive for the ‘Sharks’ Category

Sri Lanka scales up its domestic campaign to protect sharks with a global push

September 8, 2019

https://news.mongabay.com/2019/09/sri-lanka-scales-up-its-domestic-campaign-to-protect-sharks-with-a-global-pushpublished on MongayBay on 05.09.2019

  • With the killing of sharks and rays on the rise, Sri Lanka played a lead role in pushing three proposals to extend global protection to 18 species at the recently concluded CITES wildlife trade summit in Geneva.
  • Sixty-three sharks and 42 ray species are found in Sri Lankan waters, and are threatened by overexploitation driven by an ever-increasing demand for sharks fins, meat, and liver oil.
  • While five species of sharks currently enjoy legal protection against the species trade in Sri Lanka, conservationists see an urgent need to extend protection to all reef sharks and other endangered shark and ray species.

Decades ago along the beaches of Sri Lanka, fish sellers used bicycles to transport their catch, including sharks. It was said the sharks were often so big that, when tied down to the bicycle frame, their snouts and tail fins would touch the ground at either end.

“But not anymore,” says Hiran Jayawardene, the founder chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). He says this decline is evident at shark landing sites around the country, where fishermen are no longer pulling in the large sharks they did before.

Sri Lanka’s waters are home to 63 shark and 42 ray species, but many are threatened by overexploitation to feed the growing demand for shark fins, meat, and liver oil.

The result of the voting at the CITES summit in Geneva in favor of the uplisting of mako sharks to Appendix II. Image courtesy of IISD Reporting Service.

But the country is looking to change that, rolling out a raft of regulations in the past two decades to protect various shark species domestically, and, more recently, spearheading a push for the global protection of highly exploited and endangered mako sharks.

Among the many proposals it supported at last month’s global summit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Sri Lanka took a leading role in calling for the inclusion of the two species of mako sharks, shortfin (Isurus oxyrinchus) and longfin (I. paucus), in CITES Appendix II, which would subject their trade to strict rules. It also called for similar protections for six species of giant guitarfishes and 10 species of wedgefishes.

The IUCN Red List includes both species of mako sharks as endangered, all six species of giant guitarfishes as critically endangered, and nine of the 10 species of wedgefishes as critically endangered.

“All these species have seen very steep declines in their populations in recent decades and this is mostly due to overfishing, habitat destruction and degradation,” Rima Jabado, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group’s regional vice-chair for the Indian Ocean, told Mongabay.

Kim Friedman, senior fisheries resources officer at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said a mere listing would not protect the species. “It matters to change the management framework of fisheries to get implemented at ground level.”

More than 100 million sharks are killed every year, mainly for their fins. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

Protecting the ocean’s predators

In Sri Lanka, five species of sharks enjoy legal protection: the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus), bigeye thresher (A. superciliosus), common thresher (A. vulpinus), oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), and whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Since 2001, local fishing regulations have required that any of these sharks that are caught must be brought to shore with their fins attached. The rule was enforced to curb shark finning, the practice of catching a shark, cutting off its fins mid-ocean, then dumping the live shark back into the water, where, unable to swim, it dies.

In 2013, Sri Lanka went further and introduced a five-year National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA), specifying measures for adoption and implementation of new shark conservation and management mechanisms.

Sisira Haputhantri, an ocean fisheries expert at NARA, told Mongabay that the shark action plan, since extended for another five years, should help monitor the implementation of the conservation initiatives.

Over the past 10 years, the country has official exported 59 metric tons of shark fins annually. But there’s evidence that greater volumes of shark fins are being smuggled out of the island.

There are recorded and unrecorded instances of fins being exported as dried fish, said Sevvandi Jayakody, Sri Lanka’s coordinator for the recent CITES summit.

By listing mako sharks in Appendix II, scientists can gather accurate figures of sharks killed as part of the international trade, which would help determine whether catches are reaching what’s known as the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), Jayakody said.

“We do not want to stop shark fishery but we do want sustainable fishery. CITES should help educate regulators and fisherfolk alike, on the new developments,” she said.

Both species of mako are oceanic, roam the high seas, and undertake long-distance migrations, making local protection mechanisms of somewhat limited value, according to Rex I. de Silva, author of Sharks of Sri Lanka. The CITES listing is therefore vital to protect the species in international seas.

A shark is finned at the Negombo shark landing site in western Sri Lanka. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

John E. Scanlon, former secretary-general of CITES, told Mongabay that the convention had been used effectively since 2013 to regulate the international trade in commercially harvested sharks and rays. These include hammerheads (family Sphyrnidae), porbeagles (Lamna nasus) and oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays, as well as silky (Carcharhinus falciformis) and thresher sharks together with devil rays (genus Mobula) since 2016. Mako sharks are the latest to join the list.

“Following the 2003 listing of sharks, there had been great progress in the conservation of white sharks, basking sharks and whale sharks,” Jabado said. “The other listings are much more recent, and it is unlikely we will see a difference in the population size of these species just yet.”

Conservation management

What countries need is better fisheries management to curb overexploitation, Jabado said.

“Many species in the Indian Ocean are considered migratory but many are endemic to this region,” she said. “This means, we need higher levels of species protection. To ensure protection of the migratory species, the best strategy is collaboration with other countries in the region, both on research and conservation.”

Daniel Fernando of Blue Resources Trust initiated a nine-day survey of fish markets and landing sites at 11 localities in Sri Lanka that led to the identification of 34 shark species. Five of them are sharks new to science. “If a short survey of nine days could help discover new species, it shows the need for greater research on Sri Lanka’s sharks,” Fernando told Mongabay.

Following the listing of sharks and rays to Appendix II during the 2013 CITES summit in Bangkok, Sri Lanka’s Department of Fisheries Resources and the FAO conducted a joint survey to identify the successes and challenges experienced in the implementation of CITES provisions.

The survey showed poor awareness about the CITES process among stakeholders. However, they had a satisfactory level of knowledge of other measures, with more than 69 percent of respondents having awareness of management measures.

Sharks caught for their fins. Finning often takes place at sea, with the live shark thrown back into the water, where it’s unable to swim and quickly dies. Image by Malaka Rodrigo.

“Shark conservation in Sri Lanka appears to be at the starting point: It has a long way to go in order to reach conservation efforts undertaken by neighbours such as the Maldives,” said  Howard Martenstyn, a marine biologist with the Centre of Research for Indian Ocean Marine Mammals (CRIOMM).

Promotion of ecotourism of sharks and manta rays as an alternative to fishing can offer a different revenue model for the local economy, Martenstyn said.

 

Banner image of a stuffed shark toy at the Sri Lankan delegation’s seat at last month’s CITES summit in Geneva. Sri Lanka played a leading role in pushing for greater protection for sharks and rays at the summit. Image courtesy of IISD Reporting Service.

Gentle marine giant stays more on our waters

April 30, 2017

A whale shark seen with a swimmer off Colombo. Pic courtesy Nishan Perera

As the sightings of whale sharks increase in our waters, experts say the world’s largest fish needs to be protected.

“We still know very little about whale sharks, but the fish is already ‘endangered’ and highly threatened by both target and bycatch fisheries,” says marine biologist from Blue Resources Trust, Daniel Fernando. He made the remarks at a lecture at an event organised by Sri Lanka Sub-Aqua Club this week.

The blue whale is the largest creature on Earth, but since it is a marine mammal, the crown of being the largest fish goes to the whale shark. A whale shark can grow up to 40 feet (12 meters) or more and weigh about 20 tons. The average whale shark is 8 metres long, but the ones found in Sri Lankan waters are 6-7 metres according to Mr Fernando.

Scientifically classified as rhincodon typus, the whale shark called ‘mini muthu mora’ in Sinhala is in fact a species of shark. But unlike other sharks, they do not have teeth and they are filter feeders that depend on plankton. By opening their huge gaping mouths closer to the surface, they scoop in these plants along with any small fish.

Divers have reported more sightings in the seas off Colombo.

Nishan Perera, a marine biologist who has made regular dives in the oceans off Colombo, reported more whale shark sightings in February and March when these fish are seen in our waters. “Two or three whale shark sightings during this period is normal, but this year there were dozens of encounters,” Mr Perera said.

A giant whale shark seen in colombo seas (c) Sanjeev de Silva

The Maldives is a famous destination for whale sharks and queries revealed a lower number of encounters in Maldivian waters when there was an increase in our waters said Mr Perera. The whale sharks have spots on the body and its pattern is unique for each individual. So, the Sri Lankan marine biologists also shared the photos of the whale sharks seen in Sri Lankan waters with other international whale shark databases to verify where they are from.

It could be the same individuals seen in different occasions, but the fact that they are seen more often means that the fish that are used to passing through our waters are staying a little longer than previous years.

Author of the “Sharks of Sri Lanka”; Rex I De Silva says the large number of recent sightings baffle him. He says these fish usually migrate to areas rich in plankton. These areas are where there is an upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the depths. So, it is possible that, fuelled by changes in hydrologic factors, such upwellings are now occurring with greater frequency in our coastal waters. Upwellings encourage the growth of plankton which, in turn, attracts other plankton feeders such as fish. Whale sharks also feed on fish (especially small scombrids) which are attracted to the plankton.

Changing oceanic patterns due to global warming is another reason according to the expert. However, these are just suggestions as to why whale shark sightings have become common in recent years. We just do not have sufficient data to draw firm conclusions, cautioned Mr De Silva.

Howard Martenstyn, another expert, points out that there are more nutrients in the western seaboard compared to 2016 as evidenced by increased rainfall and river outflows and that may explain more whale shark sightings. Mr Matenstyn also reminds us that the number of sightings in the same area does not usually equate to the number of whale sharks, highlighting the need for more supporting data and investigations.

The whale shark is a gentle giant, which allows divers swim with them. They pose no danger to humans but an accidental blow from the powerful tail can cause injury. Experts advise keeping a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from the front of the body and 3 metres from the rear.

The whale shark takes about 15 years to mature to reproduce and is vulnerable to overfishing. Sri Lanka passed laws banning the catching of whale sharks in 2015, but awareness of such regulations, along with implementation, is often lacking points out Daniel Fernando.

Published on SundayTimes on 30.04.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170430/news/gentle-marine-giant-drawn-to-our-waters-238733.html

Experts urge Sri Lanka to join global effort to protect sharks 
Sharks have slow reproductive cycles and cannot be fished at levels similar to other fish. But sadly, Sri Lanka is among top 20 shark killing countries ranked at 14th place according to a 2013 report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and the Pew Environment Group.

The Fisheries Department says that steps have been taken to protect sharks. Five species are protected by law, including three species of thresher sharks, oceanic-white tip shark, and the whale shark. The department says it even distributes tools such as de-hookers and line cutters among fishermen that can be used to release sharks caught in nets or hooks.

But more needs to be done to protect these apex predators in our ocean near the top of the marine food chain and help regulate populations of species in the marine ecosystem, the experts say.

Sharks are also important to the economic survival of the fishing industry and have the potential to attract tourists. So Sri Lanka should follow the example of the Maldives and other nations to support international conservation and protection of sharks, marine expert Howard Martenstyn, says.

Several species of shark migrate into different areas of oceans governed by different countries. So to protect them, the Convention of Migratory Species initiated a memorandum of understanding on the conservation of migratory sharks in 2010. Sri Lanka has not yet signed this, but marine experts say this would be a great step forward in recognising the value of sharks within our national and regional waters, points out Daniel Fernando.

Sad plight of a whale shark in Galle, 2014- photo courtesy Lankadeepa

Rare bottom-dweller is a vulnerable fish

April 9, 2017

‘Why humans are so cruel..?’ could it be Shark Ray’s last thoughts..?

In the animal kingdom, there are species that look alike, or ‘hybrids’, between two or more creatures. Marine creatures with such features often go unnoticed, but the fish caught in nets off the southern coast puzzled many as it appeared like a shark and a ray (‘mora’ and ‘maduwa’ in Sinhala, respectively).This strange fish had ‘shark like’ fins and tail. However, its head looks like a ray and had ray-like ‘wings’. The fish photographed by Devsiri Peiris last month is said to have been caught accidentally in a fishing net. It is about five feet long and a male.

“It is a fish we call ‘shark ray’, known by fishermen  as ‘thith mora’’’, says Rex I. De Silva – an expert on sharks. “Despite its Sinhala name, it is not a shark but a ray,’’ he says.

The shark ray is scientifically named as Rhina ancylostoma also called mud skate as it is found in sandy bottoms doing bottom feeding. Due to the shape of its head the fish in this group is also known as ‘guitarfish’. The one caught is a Bowmouth Guitarfish. According to literature, this large species can reach a length of 2.7 m (8.9 ft) and weight of 135 kg (298 lb). They are found in depths of up to 90 m (300 ft).

Shark expert, Mr de Silva says the species is rare. “Nevertheless the species appears in very small numbers from time-to-time in fish markets. I have seen them at Negombo, Kalmunai and Kirinda markets,” Mr De Silva says.

The Red List of Threatened Fauna by IUCN categorises the shark ray as ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction. Other than getting caught in fishing nets, dynamite fishing, bottom trawling pose a threat to shark rays. Habitat degradation and destruction too threaten this rare fish.  Published on SundayTimes on 09.04.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170409/news/rare-bottom-dweller-is-a-vulnerable-fish-236477.html

The Shark Ray or Guitar fish with fins similar to that of sharks and upper body similar to a ray (c) Devsiri Peiris

Shark ray in New Port Aquarium – she has given birth to 9 pups

Lanka among world’s top 20 shark killers

August 12, 2013

An international study has placed Sri Lanka among top 20 countries that catch sharks.

Noting that these 20 countries account for 80% of the world’s annual shark catch, a report based on the study puts the survival of many shark varieties in their hands.

Shark fins laid out to dry in Negombo

This report titled “The future of the Shark: A Review of Action and Inaction” was produced by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, and the Pew Environment Group. It analysed shark, ray and skate catch data provided by countries to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

TRAFFIC’s Global Marine Programme Leader Glenn Sant said, “Countries need to take action to stop the decline in shark populations and help ensure that the list of species threatened by overfishing does not continue to grow.”

Placing Sri Lanka in the 14th place, the report says Indonesia, India, Spain and Taiwan account for more than 35% of the total shark catch. Though Sri Lanka’s contribution to the global catch is only 2.4%, it is still a significant quantity, given the size of the country and its fishing fleet.

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation because of their biological characteristics of maturing late, having few young and being long-lived. Worldwide, shark populations are in decline due to unregulated fishing, much of it to meet the high demand for fins.

About 60 species of sharks populate in Sri Lanka’s waters and its exclusive economic zone. According National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) fish expert Rekha Maldeniya, silky shark leads Sri Lanka’s shark catch. About 70% of the catch consists of silky shark, followed by thresher shark and hammerhead sharks.

Thresher shark, identified as a threatened species, was caught despite a government ban.

Oceanic white-tip shark, blue shark and mackerel shark are the other common species with commercial value, according to the Fisheries Department.

SharkGraphicThe Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) held in Bangkok, Thailand in March this year declared the oceanic white-tip shark, three species of hammerhead sharks and manta rays as protected species. Accordingly, trade of these species requires a CITES permit. As a signatory to the convention, Sri Lanka will also need to take measures to regulate fishing of these species.
In Sri Lanka, the sharks are mostly a by-catch, says Dr. Maldeniya. But there are dozens of fishing boats particularly targeting sharks for fins which have a big export market. The long-line fishing method — that has several hooks attached to a line — is being widely used for shark fishing.

The Sri Lankan section of the report says that sharks are also caught as by-catch in bottom-set gillnet fishing, the bottom-set long-line fishing and the beach seine fishing.

Dr. Maldeniya says Sri Lanka has started a National Plan of Action for sharks. This has been initiated with assistance from the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project. The project aims at identifying shark species, their composition, possible breeding grounds and other factors which are relevant to shark conservation.

The NARA expert says the project also recommends policies to protect not only sharks but also the livelihoods of fishermen.

Sharks play a crucial role in sustaining the ocean environment. Where shark populations are healthy, marine life thrives; but where they have been overfished, ecosystems fall out of balance.

Published on SundayTimes on 04.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130804/news/lanka-among-worlds-top-20-shark-killers-55833.html

Hammerheads sharks caught at Negombo -  Malaka Rodrigo

Hammerheads sharks caught at Negombo (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Lanka won’t reveal shark secret

March 17, 2013

Malaka Rodrigo �reporting �from Bangkok – Sri Lanka maintained total silence on how it voted as an important proposal to protect sharks and manta ray species was passed earlier this week at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) in Bangkok.

Activists canvassing for the shark vote at the Bangkok conference

The proposal was passed with a clear majority after some tense proceedings as countries opposing the decision could canvass support from other countries and call for a re-vote. As expected Japan backed by India and Gambia challenged the decision on oceanic white-tip shark while China and Grenada had attempted to reopen the debate on the listing of the three hammerhead sharks. However, there was no revote in spite of attempts to reopen the debate.

It was widely speculated that China and Japan would pressurise Sri Lanka to vote their way but, Sri Lanka’s delegation head and Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake declined to comment on Sri Lanka’s position on the basis that it was a secret ballot.Following the favourable vote these species have been listed under Appendix-II of CITES and accordingly these species of sharks and manta rays will have to be traded with CITES permits following proof that they were harvested sustainably and legally.

Mr. Ratnayake said his department would work closely with the Fisheries Department and NARA to protect these species in Sri Lankan waters. He said this was just the beginning in an area where much more had to be done to protect Sri Lanka’s marine species. The Sunday Times last week reported on the importance of Sri Lanka voting in favour of the proposal to list oceanic white-tip shark, three species of hammerhead sharks and two species of manta ray. These are threatened species in Sri Lanka’s waters because of a big export market for their dried fins and gill plates.

(Please also see reletated )

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Published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130317/news/lanka-wont-reveal-shark-secret-37404.html