Experts on the second day of a workshop emphasized the need to collect data regarding shark fishery in Pakistan, saying the National Plan of Action (NPOA) provides a viable mechanism for conservation of sharks in the country.
They also proposed that three ecologically significant and endangered Chondrichthyans species should be designated as “Iconic Species”, which includes sawfish, whale sharks and mobulids.
The workshop on “Developing conservation and management measures and assessing the vulnerability of sharks to address CITES issues; Endorsing the National Plan of Action (NPOA)for sharks of Pakistan”, is being organised by the WWF-Pakistan in collaboration with the Ministry of Climate Change.
The workshop is being attended by members of the Marine Fisheries Department, the National Institute of Oceanography, the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, the IUCN Pakistan and the Fisheries departments of Sindh and Balochistan.
According to the NPOA, a key change in the context of Pakistan is to address the gap in the data for improved management of significant shark and ray species.
Speaking on the occasion, Director Biodiversity Programme of the Climate Change Division, Naeem Ashraf Raja, said there were approximately 500 gillnets vessels and around 800 trawlers associated with fishing. However, according to him, data on landings is not available, especially regarding the sharks and rays.
He also shared that these species were caught as by-catch during industrial fisheries of shrimps, tuna and other target fisheries.
Regarding shark trade in Pakistan, he commented that fins of the species were exported to the countries like Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan where they were in high demand.
He also said that shark meat was being sold by vendors in form of fried finger fish, while its skin was dried and used in poultry feed. He suggested that the government should consider imposing a ban on export of shark fins or products as precautionary measure till clear management options were reached.
Senior Director-Biodiversity WWF-Pakistan Rab Nawaz emphasized the need for establishing a database on shark fishery and to strengthen identification of reliable data.
Muhammad Moazzam Khan, technical adviser in the Marine Fisheries of the WWF-Pakistan, said data collection mechanism for sharks needed to be implemented at all landing sites in Sindh and Balochistan, which could help assess the status of species.
According to him, there are around 74 landing sites in both provinces.
He was of the view that it was the mandate of the provincial governments to keep record of all fishes, including sharks catch at each landing site.
He also said that the traditional knowledge about marine life was being lost, which needed to be conserved as it was very important for their conservation and management of fisheries resources.
He also urged the relevant stakeholders to endorse the NPOA developed by the WWF-Pakistan after consultation process.
Umair Shahid, coordinator WWF-Pakistan, outlining key objectives of the plan shared that it aimed to assess threats to shark population, determine and protect critical habitats and implement harvesting strategies consistent with the principals of biological sustainability and rational long-term use.
“In addition, it intends to minimise unutilised accidental catches of sharks and ensure that shark catches from target and non-target fisheries are sustainable.” He also shared that the main goal of this plan was to ensure that the shark resources of Pakistan were conserved for their long-term viability, consumption, trade and benefit to all fishers.
He said the data collection for sharks would be initiated within six monthsand the WWF-Pakistan and the Marine Fisheries Department (MFD) would take the lead in this activity.
Director Balochistan Coastal Development Authority Ahmed Nadeem sharing the local perspective on sharks said that traditional fishermen were well aware about sharks, the allied species and their role in marine ecosystem.
The participants appreciated the efforts of the WWF-Pakistan for developing the National Plan of Action for the sharks, which they considered was essential for conservation and management of this fishery in Pakistan.
Sindh Director Fisheries and Marine Rukhsana Asghar Chaudhry;Dr Andy Cornish, leader of the Global Shark Programme, WWF-Hong Kong; Asad Rafi Chandna, DG Port and Shipping; Dr M Shoaib Kiani and other officials of the relevant departments also spoke on the occasion.