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Sri Lanka: a danger zone for sharks and rays

ECONOMYNEXT – An internationally renowned Marine Conservationist is warning that a species of shark found in Sri Lankan waters has disappeared along with other species of shark and ray species which are now considered critically endangered.

Conservationist Dr Rima W. Jabado, consultant of the Elasmo project made this remark at a seminar conducted by Pigeon Island in partnership with Blue Resources Trust.

“Sawfishes (carpenter sharks) are a critically endangered species with only five species across the world, out of which two species could be found in Sri Lanka,” she noted.

“Surveys confirm that the two species have now disappeared,” she said speaking at ‘A shark story: The Future’, a lecture series which aims to promote marine conservation and protection.

Guitarfish and wedge fishes who are closely related to sawfishes also reported declines in population globally. 

“Similar to sharks and rays, Guitarfish and wedge fishes live in coastal areas and are very slow to grow, late to mature and have very small pups,” she said. 

“These fishes are targeted by all the small scale fishermen and are easily caught in nets which classifies them as critically endangered,” she added.

Conservationist Dr Rima W. Jabado, consultant of the Elasmo project/Supplied

“Guitarfishes and wedge fishes have extremely valuable fins, with high fin needle content that could fetch up to 1000 US dollars for a kilogram of fin,” she said.

A shark fin needle is a tasteless, gelatinous product incorporated with other ingredients to prepare shark fin soup, a delicacy served mainly in China.

Jabado also claimed that the area surrounding India and Sri Lanka is the hotspot of diversity for sharks and ray species and some of the largest fisheries in the world which directly impacting species.

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Manta and Devil rays (Mobulidae) is a family of ray species which prefers living in the open ocean rather than the ocean floor.

Researchers have found that these species too are in danger of extinction owing to overfishing. 

When caught, the gill plates of manta and devil rays, used by the animal to filter water and get their oxygen, is extracted, dried and crushed to use as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine.

This is highly in demand in China.

Sri Lanka is the largest source in the world for manta and devil ray fisheries.

“A recorded 25 per cent of sharks and rays are threatened around the world,” Jabado said.

“We use the ICUN Red List to conduct regional assessments. So far we have done these assessments for the Mediterranean, the Northwest Indian Ocean including Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives,” she added. 

“We found out that 50 per cent of the populations in this part of the globe is considered threatened. This is a reason why Sri Lanka is no longer one of the largest capturers,” she said.

However, Jabado claims that there is light at the end of the tunnel based on proof of many countries’ success in their conservation activities targeting the recovery of many species.

“We have worked with governments, local NGOs and fishing communities as well because this is not a problem which should be addressed in isolation,” Jabado said.

India has one of the largest whale shark fisheries in the world in the Gujarat area. The Indian government banned whale shark fishery in 2001 and has been working closely with fishermen. They have a system in place where if the fishermen catches a whale shark in their net, they have to cut it and release it. The government will then subsidize a replacement for them.

Globally there are about 60-70 reported shark and human interactions annually of which only five deaths occur, which is comparatively lower than deaths reported on human interactions with other animals.

Often viewed as dangerous animals, sharks Jabado says only retaliate when humans pose a threat to them.

(Colombo, February 02, 2020)

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