India ranks second, after Indonesia, on the global list of shark fishing nations as the fishing of the species has gone from being ‘incidental’ to ‘targeted’.
This increase, which is causing serious concerns about the sustainability of these catches, is being accredited to the demand in international market.
Some Shark Statistics
Out of the six species of river sharks found in the world, the Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus), which inhabits the River Hooghly in West Bengal, as well as the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, Mahanadi in the states of Bihar, Assam and Orissa, is amongst the 20 most threatened shark species and is listed as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red-list. Also, as per the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) India, under the Wildlife Protection Act of India 1972, of the 88 shark species found in Indian waters, four have been listed as ‘protected’ under Schedule I.
Hunting, exploiting and trading of these four species – whale shark (Rhincodon typus), Pondicherry shark (Carcharhinus hemiodon), Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) and the speartooth shark (Glyphis glyphis) has been banned. The shark population has been steadily decreasing due to over – fishing, habitat degradation, increasing river utilisation, and dam building.
Crisis and Control
Increased hunting of sharks is resulting in a decline in their population. The numbers are driven by demand of shark products like meat, leather, liver oil and their cartilage. However, it is the demand of their fins, in Chinese cuisine, which is currently driving the international shark trade .The fins and jaws are in high demand in the international market, and are also used by locals for meat and oil.
Mechanised trawl nets, gills nets and line gear operations contribute to maximum exploitation.
Much of the shark trade is largely unregulated and their intensive hunting is further threatening the endangered species. CITES (Convention on International Trade), to which India has been a party since 1976, regulates international trade in sharks.
In an effort to promote sustainable shark fisheries and better monitor how many and what species were being caught, India announced a ban on the practice of shark finning by issuing the ‘Fins Naturally Attached’ policy requiring fishers to land sharks with their fins attached.
Globally, finning is a common practice. Shark fins are exported to nations, particularly China, for its use in soups and other delicacies. The remaining shark body is discarded into the sea. Unable to move effectively without their fins, most times these fishes sink to the bottom of the ocean and die either by suffocation or being attacked by other predators.
India has a ‘zero waste ‘policy and the shark fish are used completely. Additionally, the Ministry of Commerce issued a notification in 2015 which bans the import and export of shark fins in India.