Photo above: A Silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) swims in the water column of Indian Ocean near Maldives. Photo: © Sirachai Arunrugstichai
In Thailand, it is clear that, landing of sharks have been declining as I have been documenting in the past three years, abundance is shrinking; species composition of the catch is becoming less diverse. This situation coincides with the reports from fishers that these marine predators are disappearing.
So, in this context, the government’s recent decision to protect Whale Shark and other three species of threatened marine wildlife is assuring, undoubtedly. We are still pushing for protection to more species like Mobula and Rhinobatid rays. Their population has been seriously suffered in the water of Thailand.
As Fahmida Khalique puts it in her reaction, it is really a fin-tastic news from a country which is one of the top exporters of shark products.
Fishing industry in Thailand is really huge. In fact, we are among the top seafood producers of the World, with large fleets operating far out at sea and massive processing and exporting business back on our soil.
Primarily, our commercial fleets use trawling or purse seine, which are non-selective fishing gears. Commercially important species are caught, however the collateral damage to other unwanted species, by-catch is also tremendous, and sharks is one of the groups that suffers.
To my knowledge and experience, this scenario of shark fishing is common to most countries in Southeast Asia region. Since sharks are caught as by-catch in biomass fisheries- monitoring, management and conservation efforts for shark and rays are very limited.
Lack of information and knowledge gap is a major problem plaguing management efforts here. The key point for conservation efforts of sharks and rays we need to be thorough about life history of the local populations; particularly their habitats, migratory patterns and reproductive biology.
Life history of sharks tends to be characterized by slow-growth, late-sexual maturity, and low number of offspring, especially when compared with fast growing teleosts (bony fishes), which can spawn million of eggs. Obviously, with largely different life histories, they fare very poorly comparing to most other fishes under the intensive pressure of modern fisheries, especially in non-selective fisheries of this region. Thus, it is not surprising that sharks are now considered one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates on the planet.
Like any other regions of the World, for SE Asia, going ‘trans-boundary’ is what we need. Initiatives for collaboration to collect data such as landing trends and patterns, habitat and biological information for stock modeling would definitely help creating a better strategy for Bay of Bengal large marine ecosystem and greater Indian Ocean region. As the trajectory of the shark stock is going down and down, additional efforts would be great, since there are limited people active in this field for this region.
Sirachai Arunrugstichai is a Marine Conservationist and Underwater Photographer based in Thailand, and affiliated with Center for Biodiversity in Peninsular Thailand. He can be reached at [email protected]