People gather around the female whale shark which was brought to the Karachi Fish Harbour for auction on Wednesday. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
KARACHI: A five-metre-long whale shark weighing between three and four tonnes was caught in Balochistan and brought to Karachi Fish Harbour where it was auctioned on Wednesday before being chopped and transported to markets to be used in poultry feed.
The female whale shark was caught with the help of a shrimp trawler and reportedly sold for Rs16,000.
This was the eighth reported incident of whale shark being incidentally or deliberately caught here by fishermen since February 2012, according to marine experts.
The sub-adult whale shark was caught by fishermen from Karachi who found it near the coastal town of Phor (situated between Ormara and Sonmiani) in Balochistan.
The marine experts said Pakistan along with India was among the very few countries where documented record of their breeding existed.
Considered as the largest living fish species, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) — also called the Gentle Giant of the Sea — is listed ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is included in the Appendix 2 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that means restriction on its trade.
“This is an illegal catch as we have received information that the trawling was being carried out within 12 nautical miles of Balochistan coast which is banned under the law. Also, fishermen from Karachi had come to Balochistan for fishing,” said World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan’s technical adviser (marines resources) Mohammad Moazzam Khan.
The northern Arabian Sea bordering the coast of Pakistan, he said, was one of the most important feeding and breeding ground for the species in the world.
“The whale shark is not consumed in Pakistan. Its meat is used for fish meal, liver for extraction of oil for smearing the hull of fishing vessels to keep it smooth while fins are illegally exported to Hong Kong and China where they are used to make soup,” he added.
According to Mr Khan, the species is found in tropical and subtropical waters of the world ocean. It is known to be found in Pakistan since long while the first account of their organized fishing anywhere in the world is also stated to be reported in Pakistan. Fortunately, the fishing was practically stopped in early 1970s.
WWF-P Director Rab Nawaz stressed the need for immediate inclusion of the species in Schedule-I of the Wildlife Act of Sindh and Balochistan so that its enmeshing, trade and utilization in any form could be banned in Pakistan.
India, he said, had already included whale sharks in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (under sub section (1) of section 61) on May 28, 2001.
“There is a need to have a robust and adequate management system in place to avoid catching of non-target species. Sharks in general are now considered critically endangered and there is a lot of concern regarding conservation of these species.
“We, therefore, urge the government, research organisations and other stakeholders to take necessary steps such as transformation of fishing gears and, most importantly, regular collection of data that may help bridge gaps for improved fisheries management and make us move towards compliance to international agreements to which Pakistan is a signatory,” said Smart Fishing Initiative/WWF-Pakistan coordinator Umair Shahid.