KARACHI, Aug 21: There has been a 70 per cent decline in the catch of large-sized shrimp over the past four decades while the landing of colossal-sized shrimp has reduced to almost zero, says a recent report which strongly recommends imposition of the official two-month fishing ban on the catch of shrimp from June 1 to July 31, it emerged on Wednesday.

The report that focused on the justification for a close season for shrimp fishing has been prepared by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-P).

“There are no two opinions that shrimps are over-fished. This is evident from the fact that its catch per boat has reduced drastically as well as its average-size composition,” the study, authored by Mohammad Moazzam Khan, former director of the marine fisheries department currently working as a technical adviser on marine resources with the WWF-P, states.

According to the report, shrimp fishery is the mainstay of the country’s coastal fisheries as it is a source of earning good foreign exchange and provides high profit margin and job opportunities to thousands of local fishermen.

The sign of overfishing, according to the report, started appearing in the early 70s that forced the government to acquire services of Dr V. Zupanovic, a leading expert on the subject, with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The expert conducted a study on the shrimp fisheries of Sindh and Balochistan and concluded, after years of research, that shrimp resources were over-fished because of the large fleet size of vessels.

“Based on this study and on the recommendation of the FAO as well as national fisheries experts, the federal government issued a notification (S.R.O. 329(1)/79) under Exclusive Fishery Zone (Regulation of Fishing) Act 1975 for the management and conservation of shrimp resources and declared that no shrimp would be caught during the period from June 1 to July 31 in the entire area of the zone,” it says.

Later, the report states, the government of Sindh vide Section 4 of the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance, 1980, announced a ban on shrimp fishing for the month of June and July in 1983. In order to further strengthen the database and information on shrimp fisheries, another project entitled “Marine Fisheries Development Project” was executed from 1982 to 1991 by the marine fisheries department which revealed that shrimp resources were highly overexploited.

The study spread over a decade also showed that economic overfishing of shrimp in Pakistan started in the early 1970s when the catch of jaira (large-sized white shrimp) started decreasing.

“It is now feared that shrimp fisheries in Pakistan are now entering into the critical stage of recruitment overfishing, which means that there would be not enough adult shrimps to support subsequent generations which may lead to a total collapse of fisheries or an extinction of the species,” says the paper. Citing various studies, the paper states that the catch rate (per boat) of shrimps has seriously decreased over the years.

In addition, large-sized shrimp is hardly represented in the catch while opportunistic species such as Solenocera crassicornis and other species of genus Solenocera are now more seen.

The research, according to the report, also points to the increase in the fishing fleet and trawling activities that now continue unabated throughout day and night.

“Excessive fishing operation throughout the year has led to a serious habitat alteration, which means removal of associated fauna and flora where trawlers are being used. Besides, there is a drastic increase in the landing of juvenile shrimps that are being sold as ‘trash fish’. Juvenile and sub-adult shrimps are also being caught continuously in the creek areas with the help of set bag nets.

“The situation could cause collapse of shrimp fisheries in the country in few years if the two-month fishing ban period is not strictly imposed,” the report warns.

The catch of white shrimp (jaira) has declined from 15 tonnes to one tonne per year per boat in four decades whereas the catch of pink prawn (kalri) and salad shrimp (kiddi) has declined from 9 tonnes and 5 tonnes to 2 to 3 tonnes per year boat during the same period respectively.

The two-month ban on fishing shrimp had been observed only in three years; 1983, 1984 and 2007.

Logic behind seasonal ban

The lifecycle of a shrimp, according to the study, is complicated and consists of several stages. Penaeid shrimps are known to spawn in the open ocean and the hatchlings spend a part of their life in high seas before migrating into the coastal waters and take shelter in mangroves and mudflats areas where they spend a substantial part of their life and migrate back to the sea when they reach juvenile and sub-adult stages.

“Since Pakistan coast is located in the sub-tropical area, therefore, most shrimp species breed throughout the year with major peak periods in some seasons. The juveniles in mass scale migrate to shallow coastal waters and over-winter in the creek areas and start their migration back to high seas in May to July when temperature conditions improve.

“Once they reach the open sea, their growth is sped up due to high feeding rates because of high temperature and availability of the plentiful food. There is sufficient scientific evidence for this seasonality pattern in Pakistan. Having a ban during June and July is well-timed because it provides protection to major progeny cohorts produced during the peak breeding season and ‘over-wintered’ population,” it says.

Data, the paper says, has shown that the shrimp size was small in periods when the two-month fishing ban was not implemented while the prohibition on shrimp catch had led to bumper landings in subsequent months.

It also refers to the fishing practices in regional countries where there is ban of much longer periods on shrimp fishing. For instance, fishing for shrimp is allowed only for 45 days in a year in Iran while two to three months of ban is imposed in most states of India in addition to other strict management measures.

“There are enough scientific evidences that warrant a strict ban on shrimp trawling during June and July every year. Non-imposition of the two-month ban, reducing its duration or shifting it to other months wouldn’t serve any tangible purpose,” it concludes.