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KARACHI: Fishermen pulled off a big whale shark to the shore of Thatta that had ‘accidentally’ trapped into a gillnet other day, the WWF-Pakistan said on Sunday.

“A 20 feet long whale shark was accidentally entangled in a gillnet placed in the offshore waters off Khobar Creek on Saturday,’ the WWF-Pakistan said.

The specimen was brought to Jhangi Sar, a small fishing town in Thatta district, Sindh, citing the fishermen, it said, the whale shark was entangled in the fishing net, which they could not disentangle it.

“Thereby tying it to the side of the boat and bringing it to their home village, Jhangi Sar,” it maintained.

It said, as it was a holiday, whale shark could not be sold on the market and was still in the possession of the fishermen in the village.

The whale shark is classified as endangered according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, whereas it is included in Appendix-II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and is proposed to be included in Appendix-I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

It is also covered under other international instruments including the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), of which Pakistan is a member. In Sindh and Balochistan, catching, landing and marketing of the whale shark is banned since 2016, under the Fisheries Legislations.

WWF-Pakistan is running an awareness programme on the conservation of this gentle giant which is found in Pakistan’s waters.

Whale sharks are known to inhabit the coastal areas of both Sindh and Balochistan, with main hotspots at Ghora Bari, Khobbar Creek, Khajjar Creek, Cape Monze, Churna Island, Malan-Sapat, Gwadar and Gunz.

Churna Island is known to have the main concentration of the whale shark as it is the breeding, feeding and basking area for them.

WWF-Pakistan started a crew-based observer programme in 2012 and trained about 100 fishermen to release whale sharks that entangled in the tuna gillnet operation. Since the start of the programme, a total of 121 whale sharks have been safely released by these trained fishermen.

This was mainly achieved through capacity building and awareness initiatives and is a big success in the conservation of marine species. WWF-Pakistan also prepared guidelines for the safe release of whale sharks and in addition to crew-based observers, other fishermen are also following these steps and frequently release whale sharks.

Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan played a key role in the enactment of the legislation for the protection of the whale shark and other threatened species.

He also stressed on the need for proactive action by the Department of Fisheries so that fishermen may not catch this rare and endangered species and place it for marketing.

Dr Tahir Rasheed, Regional Head (Sindh and Balochistan), WWF-Pakistan pointed out that a healthy population of whale sharks is reported from Pakistani waters. However, it faces multiple threats such as frequent entanglement in fishing gears, particularly gillnets, habitat degradation and marine pollution.

He stated that these species are commonly found all along the coast of Pakistan. He also said that Churna Island, which is a major hotspot for whale sharks, should be declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the government of Balochistan on priority basis. He further added that two neonate whale sharks were reported from the Balochistan coast in 1983 and 2008 respectively, confirming the breeding of whale sharks in the area.

Historically, there was an important whale shark fishery in Pakistan but since the 1970s the fishery for whale sharks using harpoons was stopped. Whale sharks are neither locally consumed in Pakistan, nor is their meat exported. However, fishermen extract oil from its liver to smear the hull of fishing boats to keep them smooth.

The meat is used for conversion into poultry meal. When a whale shark becomes entangled in a net, it struggles to break free and causes serious damage to expensive fishing nets. Fishermen, therefore, kill these gentle giants in order to save their nets.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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