The Hindu , 10 March 2006

Netting of endangered aquatic species causes alarm

Kochi: Accidental netting and lack of public awareness about the endangered status is spelling doom for some of the aquatic species in the country.

Turtles, sharks, rays and skates... they are on the brink and fighting a pitched battle for survival.

The increased incidents of fishing and selling of some of the endangered marine species have forced the State wildlife authorities to take note of the situation. Yet, they are not in a position for a crackdown for saving these species, as the issue of conservation is embroiled in several socio-cultural and livelihood issues.

The Chief Wildlife Warden of the State has cautioned public that the fishing and selling of some of the endangered species of sharks, fins and rays and sea turtles are punishable under the Indian Wildlife Act 1972.

"There are reports that the meat of some of these endangered species is reaching some of the rural markets of the State. Hence the notification," says V. Gopinath, Chief Wildlife Warden of the State.

The Wildlife Act prescribes imprisonment up to seven years and fine for such offences. But before embarking on legal action, the Forest Department plans to carryout an awareness campaign among the fishermen community and general public of the State, says Mr. Gopinath.

A dialogue needs to be started between the department and the fishermen communities of the State as these sections can play a crucial role in conserving these species, he says.

The biological features of these species, along with the manmade factors, are forcing these species to the verge, says fisheries expert B. Madhusoodana Kurup, professor, the School of Industrial Fisheries of the Cochin University of Science and Technology.

Sharks, rays and skates, which come under the order Elasmobranches, give birth to their young ones and the number of offspring in each birth will be between eight and 12. Moreover, the frequency of giving birth is also low when compared to the other species, he explains.

While the egg-laying species release lakhs of eggs at a time, these endangered species breed around four times a year and that too with a gestation period up to six months. The indiscriminate killing of sharks for their fin, which fetches attractive price in domestic and international markets, the destruction of eggs of turtles and habitat destruction are some of the factors that are affecting the species.

The construction of seawall prevents the entry of turtles from the sea to the shore for laying eggs. Of the 590-km coastal line of the State, sea wall has been constructed along over 350 km affecting the turtle population, he explains.