- 52 shark and ray species are now protected under the Act
- Previously, 23 shark and ray species were protected
- The Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act was originally enacted in 2012
- Bangladesh among the top 20 countries that illegally export shark and rays
- Some 20 countries alone catch about 3.3 lakh tons of sharks and stingrays each year
Nine years after the enactment of the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, the government has finally taken an initiative to protect endangered sharks and stingrays.
On 22 September, by amending schedules of the law, the government has included 52 different species of sharks and stingrays under the conservation and protection law, according to their global conservation status as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Red List assessments.
Previously in the Act enacted in 2012, some 23 shark and ray species were protected.
In the last 10 years, the shark and stingray population have reduced drastically in Bangladesh. Fisheries experts have found that overfishing, either as targeted or unintentional catch, and the global demand for their (shark, stingray) parts, are responsible for the rapidly declining numbers.
Abdur Rauf, deputy director, Marine Fisheries Wing of Department of Fisheries, said people in some parts of the country prefer to consume shark meat and dried shark so that creates a demand for the fish.
There has been a trend to illegally export sharks and rays from Bangladesh recently, which contributed to the reduction in their population. Sharks are targeted primarily for their fins, meat, cartilage, liver oil and skin whereas rays are targeted for their meat, skin, gill rakers, and livers.
Bikramjit Roy, assistant director, District Fisheries Department in Chattogram, said, in the last 10 years, the shark and stingray populations in Bangladesh have drastically reduced but things have become worse in the last two years as the hunting increased dramatically due to the high price of shark and stingray in the international market.
According to an estimate by Traffic, an international conservation NGO, some 20 countries alone catch about 3.3 lakh tons of sharks and stingrays every year.
G M Masum Billah, field coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Bangladesh's Marine Conservation Programme, said a generally low birth rate and slow growth of these top predators means that they are naturally fewer in numbers than other fishes.
Sharks and rays play a critical role in maintaining the natural balance in the marine and coastal ecosystems, he added.
Elisabeth Fahrni Mansur, who manages the WCS Bangladesh Marine Conservation Programme, said that the amended listing under the Wildlife Act was an important first step in improving the protection for globally threatened shark and ray species.
"This achievement now needs to be translated into action, which includes enabling the identification of protected species, reducing bycatch risks, improving protection of their priority habitats, and monitoring trade in their parts," Mansur added.
Mollah Rezaul Karim, forest conservator, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Area, said officials of the forest and fisheries department are currently being trained so that they can create awareness among the fishermen and traders to not catch the endangered fish.
Meanwhile, two intensive technical two-day workshops were held this month in Chattogram under the Sufal project of the Forest Department implemented by WCS.
GM Masum Billah from WCS said, they have trained around 50 government officers over the past week on detecting and identifying protected sharks, rays, or their parts, and standardised data collection procedures.
"Early next year we will conduct educational and interactive outreach exhibitions at major coastal fish landing sites to spread awareness about the amended Wildlife Act among fishermen and traders," he added.