Posts Tagged ‘Sharks’

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

Hammerheads sharks caught at Negombo -  Malaka Rodrigo

Hammerheads sharks caught at Negombo (c) Malaka Rodrigo

Lanka urged to vote for sharks, manta rays

March 10, 2013

As the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora takes place in Bangkok, Malaka Rodrigo stresses on the need to save those species which are fast becoming a rarity in our waters

A crucial proposal on protecting sharks and manta ray species has stirred debates and discussions ahead of a vote at the ongoing Bangkok conference on the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). �The Sunday Times learns the proposal would be put for a vote by secret ballot among CITES signatory nations at the conference where the Sri Lankan delegation is led by Wildlife Department Director General H.D. Ratnayake.

Sharks waiting to be auctioned

Attempts to contact Mr. Ratnayake to know how Sri Lanka would vote were not successful. �CITES is often hailed by scholars and conservationists as the most effective international environmental agreement to date. Sri Lanka was one of the 178 signatory countries that meet once in three years to discuss measures to protect wildlife species threatened by trade-driven over-exploitation.

The convention and its appendices list species that could be at risk and call for the control of import, export and re-export of such species through a permit system.

They also state that species that are already threatened with extinction cannot be commercially traded. �More than 30,000 such species are given trade protection through CITES and 70 new proposals have been presented at the conference — the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16).

Aquatic species top the conference agenda with proposals calling for the protection of shark and manta ray species among other threatened species. This species to be protected include oceanic white-tip shark, and three species of hammerhead shark and two species of manta ray — species found in Sri Lankan waters.

The hammerhead shark is notable for its unusual shape of the head which has given it its English name. Locally, it is known as “Udalu Mora”. There are three species of hammerhead sharks — scalloped hammerhead (sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (sphyrna mokarran) and smooth hammerhead (sphyrna zygaena). The scalloped and great hammerhead sharks have already been listed as ‘endangered’ while smooth hammerhead sharks are considered ‘vulnerable’ to extinction, according to IUCN Red List.
Oceanic white-tip sharks (carcharhinus longimanus), said to be an aggressive species, live in deep waters, but fishermen have become more accustomed to kill them and as a result they are ‘vulnerable’ to extinction. Sharks and mantas live long and take time to mature sexually. Sharks and mantas have a long gestation period and produce only a few young.

Oceanic whitetip shark Pic courtesy Norbert Probst/Imagebroker/FLPA RM

Small bony fish, which have many predators, usually lay thousands of eggs during one spawning season for the survival of the species. Sharks, top predators themselves, give birth to a few young during their life time as they face no major threats. But the situation is different today and they too face a major threat with the humans invading the ocean and engaging in a killing frenzy.

But sadly, overfishing, driven by the high demand for shark fins and manta ray gill, does not allow the shark and manta populations to recover. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in China and other East Asian countries while manta gill plates are used in Chinese medicine. Hundreds of sharks are caught daily in Sri Lankan waters and there is a big export market for their dried fins.

If the CITES proposal is adopted, Sri Lanka will be required to introduce a permit system to regulate the export of shark and manta products. Welcoming the proposal, Dr. Hiran Jayawardane, former Chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), said large manta ray species were a rare sight today in our waters and it was indeed good to see efforts being made for their protection. “Not just hammerheads, but all shark species are under threat today due to large-scale fishing.”

Dr. Jayewardene said many countries such as the Maldives and Seychelles had taken measures to protect their marine resources which in turn benefitted them economically through tourism and other areas. �“We need a more enlightened and sophisticated approach to marine conservation,” Dr. Jayewardene said drawing attention to the upcoming Marine Conservation Forum organised by the Colombo-based Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC). The Forum will focus on international experience and inspire countries like Sri Lanka to be more compassionate towards marine life.

Fisheries Department Director General Nimal Hettiarachchie said the department was planning to start a monitoring programme on shark landings. He pointed out that Sri Lanka had already banned the catching of Thresher Shark, a species threatened with extinction.

Conservationists said if the catching continues in an unsustainable manner, sharks and manta rays would decline to a point that the entire trade will collapse. “So it is better to act now before it is too late. Let’s hope that Sri Lanka will take the right decision in joining hands with the rest of the world in protecting fish in the troubled waters,” one conservationist said.

Hammerheads sharks caught in Negombo. Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International inspecting them.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.03.2013 

Ban slapped on Thresher Shark fishing

August 26, 2012

The over-fished Thresher Shark, , has come under special protection with a Government ban on the exploitation of the threatened Fish. The ban came into effect with a July 25 amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act.

Shark expert with a dead Thresher Shark at Negombo fish market

The ban states that“no person shall catch Thresher Shark species of the family Alopiidae when engaged in any fishing operation, recreational or sport fishing,”and that “no owner or skipper of a fishing boat shall retain onboard, transship, land, store, sell or offer for sale any part or whole carcass of Thresher Shark.”

Marine biologists welcome the ban, saying overfishing has pushed the Thresher shark population to the limit. “This is very welcome news and the ban is a move in the right direction” shark expert Rex De Silva told the Sunday Times. “. There are three species of Thresher Shark, and all three are found in our waters. Our fishermen refer to them collectively as ‘kasa mora’”

‘Kasa mora’ comprises Alopias vulpinus (Thresher Shark); Alopias superciliosus (Big-eye thresher shark); and Alopias pelagicus (Pelagic thresher shark).

Mr. De Silva, who is the author of the book “A History of the Sharks of Sri Lanka”, said the Thresher shark is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora, and is “vulnerable to extinction.”

The Thresher shark’s life and reproduction cycle makes the species extra vulnerable to over-exploitation. The shark is slow to mature; the males reach maturity at between 10 and 15 years, while the female take longer. The shark’s life span is 20 years or more. Gestation believed to be takes around nine months, which means the female of the species can produce only a limited number of young in its lifetime. Over-fishing breaks the cycle: young threshers are killed before they can mature and raise a new generation.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) banned Thresher shark fishing two years ago. Last year, the Sunday Times called for a ban on fishing threatened species. During a visit to Sri Lanka 2011, Shark Advocates International president Sonja Fordham made specific reference to the Thresher shark in her call for an immediate ban to cover threatened species.”We congratulate Sri Lanka for taking decisive action to protect these particularly vulnerable shark species,” said Fordham issuing a statement on recent ban. “We urge other Indian Ocean fishing nations to follow Sri Lanka’s lead and take the domestic steps that are vital to making international shark conservation measures work,” said Fordham.

It was in the 80s that sharks started becoming a popular fishing target. The price of shark went up as the demand for shark fin intensified among East Asian countries, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy. Sharks also regularly end up as a by-catch in fishing nets set up for other fish.

The amended Fisheries Act also stipulates that accidentally caught Thresher Sharks should be released into the sea by the owner or skipper of the fishing boat. There is a technique for returning a shark to the sea so the animal’s chances of survival are maximised. All instances of incidental catch and live release of Thresher Shark should be reported to the fisheries instructors.  .

The Thresher shark stands out from other shark species with its unusually long tail, which can be as as long as the shark’s body. The tail is also powerful enough to be used to immobilize its prey. The Thresher is known for its athletic behaviour and its habit of“breaching”–  leaping clear out of the water. Divers who have encountered the Thresher shark say the animal is non-aggressive, even gentle.

Threatened – and slowly dying out

As much as 33 per cent of open ocean (pelagic) sharks are threatened with extinction, according to the Shark Specialist Groupof the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Out of 64 species of open ocean (pelagic) sharks and rays, 32 per cent are threatened with extinction primarily due to over-fishing.

Up to 60 shark species swim in Sri Lankan waters, but only 12 are of commercial value. Of these, the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) accounts for more than 50 per cent of landings, as measured by weight. The Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) and the Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna spp) are the next two dominant species. Others caught daily in Sri Lankan waters include the the thresher shark and the blue shark shortfin mako. Many other sharks are caught as by-catch.

Daily catch shows a clear decline in shark numbers, a sign that shark populations are steadily disappearing.

Published on SundayTimes on 05.08.2012