By Hebah Essa
In the next one hour that I would be writing this piece of blog; 11,000 sharks around the world would fall prey to humans. (Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks, 2013) The shark population along the coast of Sindh and Balochistan face increasing risks every day with Pakistan, being the eighth highest exporter of shark fins in the world. (Dawn, 2016) It is true that a fisherman, who spends days out in the sea hoping to be able to catch enough fish to sustain himself and his family throughout the year, would jump to the idea of catching a shark because of its economic value.
Sharks and rays are increasingly demanded all across the world for their fins and gill plates. In fact; their economic value has increased in the recent past due to the rising demand for shark meat. In the Pakistani market, shark meat sells for about 2.5 to 3 US dollars per kilogram while commercially priced fisheries, such as Tuna, sell for about a dollar or a dollar and a half per kilogram. These aspects make sharks a very attractive hunt.
However, these sharks are endangered species and if they are hunted at the same speed that they are today; the next generation would be alien to their existence. In fact, we have successfully managed to destroy most of the marine habitat and are, today, left with less than one third of the marine species that existed two decades ago. According to the WWF living planet report 2016, Sharks, Rays and Skates are threatened with extinction due to over fishing. (WWF Living Planet Report, 2016)
A grave issue that exists in Pakistan today is that many a times; sharks fall prey to fishermen because of their gill nets. Unfortunately; we live in a time when our humanity ends where our financial gains begin. The root cause of the problem is that fishermen prioritize saving and securing their gill nets, instead of saving the life of the shark entangled in the net. WWF has been working with fishermen in order to train and educate them about the adverse impacts their actions have caused. Years of training and workshops have resulted in the fishermen being diligent and rescuing the shark by cutting their gill net instead of killing the poor animal.
A huge problem that most marine fisheries face today is the lack of data collection. WWF works on ensuring that we overcome the problem of unreported deaths and the data is not underestimated by collecting primary data through the use of observers at the sea. Moreover, there is collaboration with the government to ensure authorities start regulating their coastlines and reduce the number of deaths below 4.9% of total species. WWF believes that international action is absolutely necessary at this point in time and CITES must start regulating and monitoring international trade so that the illegal export of shark fins and shark meat to places such as Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and other countries with growing demand, stops.
However, change is not something that can happen overnight. Every individual has to take up responsibility in order for us to make a difference. But how do we take up responsibility? That is exactly why Shark Awareness Day is of such importance. We need to work towards creating awareness, discussing these issues because they are important and they impact us. Just because we cannot see it happening; does not mean it is not true or it is not effecting us, adversely. Hence, this year on Shark Awareness Day; recognize the problem at hand, discuss it and voice your concerns, reach out to people who are not aware of this and include them in this cycle of change. This shark’s day; we pledge to make a difference, one step at a time.
Hebah Essa, is currently doing her bachelors in Economics and Mathematics from IBA, aspiring to become an environmental economist. She is interning at WWF-Pakistan, working on data analysis in the marine department.