Published On: Thu, Nov 6th, 2014

Three threatened whale sharks saved by WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen


The Nature News
The local fishermen along the Karachi coast have successfully released three whale sharks in the last week of October, 2014 in the offshore waters of Pakistan, The Nature News learnt on Thursday.
On contact, World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan’s Communications Officer, Asif Ali Sandeelo confirmed the news and said that all these fishermen were trained by the WWF-Pakistan.
A large whale shark having a length of 18 feet got entangled in the tuna gillnets about 73 km southeast of Karachi in the offshore waters off Ghora Bari on 26th October, 2014. In addition, on 23rd October 2013 two whale sharks having a size of 10 and 14 feet respectively were entangled and released by the fishermen in the offshore waters near Shumal Bundar, off Pasni. Release of whale sharks is considered to be a good omen, as these gentle giants were used to be killed for the extraction of liver oil.
WWF-Pakistan has started an observer programme in 2012 on tuna gillnet vessel and conducted training of fishermen on saving entangled non-target animals. This has produced positive results and so far about 12 whale sharks have been successfully released by fishermen. Fishermen also observed a juvenile whale shark estimated to be about 14 feet in the Ras Malan, Balochistan area on 22nd October, 2014 which encircled the fishing boats for a while before disappearing in the sea.
Rab Nawaz, Director, WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the fishermen in releasing the whale sharks. He pointed out that although whale sharks are not protected in Pakistan but now the fishing community considers them an important marine animal which may not be killed for mere extraction of liver oil. He stressed the need for making appropriate legislation for the protection of whale sharks in Pakistan.
Rab Nawaz further pointed out that gillnet fisheries of Pakistan is known for high mortality of protected, endangered and threatened species such as whale sharks, turtles and dolphins. He stressed the Government to devise a policy for reducing gillnet fisheries in Pakistan. Many countries including Sri Lanka have converted a large number of their gillnets boats to longlining which is considered comparatively much safer gear against threatened species. On one hand tuna gillnetting results in reduction of by-catch of these important species and on the other increases fishermen income substantially.
Muhammad Moazzam. Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries) pointed out that historically there used to be an important whale shark fishery in Pakistan but since 1970’s aimed fishery for whale shark using harpoons was stopped. Whale sharks are neither consumed in Pakistan locally nor their meat is exported. However, fishermen used to extract oil from its liver for smearing hull of the fishing boats to keep it smooth. The meat is used for conversion in the poultry meal. He further pointed out that whale shark when gets entangled in the net, it struggles to get released and makes serious damage to the expensive fishing nets. It usually damages the net which causes a big loss to the fishermen. Fishermen, therefore, used to kill these gentle giants in order to save their nets. However, because of efforts of WWF-Pakistan which initiated a campaign for the awareness among fishermen, now whale sharks are seldom killed. During the operation, fishing nets were damaged but the fishermen strived very hard and ultimately released the entangled whale sharks ensuring that they are not hurt in release operation.

Pakistan coastal waters area is considered as an important breeding and basking ground for the whale sharks, therefore, neonates, juveniles and sub-adults are commonly found in in the area. Whale Shark and its products are included in the Appendix-II of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) putting its export under strict regulatory control. Pakistan is a signatory to CITES and as such whale sharks are not exported from Pakistan, however, frequent cases of their mortality in fishing net have been reported.

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