With no legal protection in Pakistan, the shark species, locally called ‘mangra’ continue to face serious threats from over exploitation through unregulated commercial fishing. The shark total annual catch of Pakistan was reported as 55,000 tonnes in the 1980s which is now merely 8,000 tonnes. This is the very reason that WWF-Pakistan brought the Marine Fisheries Department, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Government of Maldives together earlier this week to help in developing a national conservation plan. Maldives Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr. Muhammad Shainee visited Pakistan with his delegation to share their experiences as the Maldives has banned shark fishing and now generates more revenue from shark watching than they ever did from selling dead sharks, 2.7 million USD and 0.7 million respectively. While in Pakistan there is not even a close season for marine fishing. There are two months, June and July off from shrimp fishing which also supposedly provide some relief to fish. In addition to this there is no marine aquaculture which can release some pressure from our depleting marine fish resources. Faisal Iftikhar, the CEO of Fisheries Development Board said, “We used to export 4,000 containers of the Indian mackerel up to five years ago however now it is reduced to only 400”. Records show that in Pakistan there was an auction of sharks in 1983 that would begin at seven in the morning would continue past 11 am because of huge quantities of sharks, said Maozzam Ali Khan, (former director general of Sindh Fisheries Department who is currently the Fisheries Advisor to WWF-Pakistan) when I was discussing this issue of shark decline with him. Out of about 400 species of sharks, 144 have been reported from Pakistan however little is known about their population trend. Moazzam Ali Khan also highlighted that since 1985 only three specimens of the sawshark have been reported in Pakistan. Communities used the blade like snouts of sawsharks to make the boundary wall of their homes. He witnessed it in Jiwani, when he was posted in Pasni in the early 1980s. Now sawsharks are the most threatened sharks. From 1986 to 2003 there was extensive use of bottom set gillnets that were used to fish at the depth of up to 300 metres which created havoc for sharks.
Sharks are utilised to the fullest — shark fin is a delicacy and can fetch up to 400 USD per Kg while its liver and skin are used in making poultry feed. Its boneless fillets are sold as salmon and liver is used to make poultry feed. Both, horror and mystic surround sharks and the least they deserve is ethical marketing. Ethical marketing is a problem with many species. The workshop delegates had dinner at a well reputed restaurant near the art gallery in Karachi, some ordered ‘sea bass’ and ended up with cheap, farmed variety of pengasus imported from Vietnam on their plate, wrong choice by the restaurant to serve it on the table of fish experts that could easily tell this from the texture of fillet. At least the restaurant management was fair enough to not charge for the orders of sea bass. Although import of cheap pengasus can reduce some pressure on the local varieties of fish but then it should be marketed ethically. Responsible trade, consumption and management are key to conserving sharks.
Some shark species are threatened due to trade and that is the very reason that about 18 species have been included to the list of species which require export and import permits regulated under the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Pakistan is a signatory to CITES and has ratified it by developing a national law which is known as Pakistan Trade Control of Wild Fauna and Flora Act, 2012. This means that export of these shark fins outside Pakistan now requires CITES permits otherwise it would be illegal.
Marine Fisheries Department does not have data according to the species, so we don’t know what marine fish species have been on a decline. This kind of data is crucial in managing species. Sharks are extremely vulnerable because they grow slowly, mature late and have low fecundity. Some international chain of hotels such as Hyatt, Hilton, Mandarin Oriental group have taken sharks off their menu and some airlines such as Etihad, Singapore airlines, Cathy Pacific have pledged that they would not carry any shark product. The conservation of sharks needs stakeholder involvement especially fishermen, customs authorities and Marine Fisheries Department for the sole purpose of monitoring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2014.