‘Critically endangered’ fish sold for Rs26,000 in Gwadar
KARACHI: A 10-foot-long and 96-kilogramme-heavy rare largetooth sawfish was caught by local fishermen near Surbandar, Gwadar, on Sunday. Despite the ban on its catch and trade due to its near extinction, the rare fish was later sold to traders for Rs26,000.
The sawfish population is considered under extreme threat of extinction. Three species of sawfish – the knifetooth [anoxypristis cuspidatus], largetooth [pristis pristis] and largecomb [pristis zijsron] – are present in Pakistani waters. Fishermen and marine experts say that due to overfishing and habitat degradation the population of sawfish has decreased substantially and they are now considered to be nearly locally extinct.
According to the records of the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF-P), only three authentic records of their existence have been recorded in Pakistan in the last 10 years – the first on September 11, 2009, when a 1.4-metre-long largetooth was seen at the Gwadar fish harbour, the second in June, 2013 when a large specimen of sawfish was caught at the Khair Creek near the mouth of the Indus River and the third on May 11, 2015, when a largetooth was sighted at the Karachi fish harbour.
The largetooth sawfish used to be the most dominant species of sawfish in Pakistan. It inhabits coastal waters but sometimes travels to rivers. In 1962, a large specimen of sawfish was caught in Hyderabad, near the Ghulam Muhammad Barrage about 170km from the coastline, WWF-Pakistan officials claim.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Abdul Rahim, the site coordinator for the WWF-Pakistan, said that he reached the harbour where the traders purchased the rare sawfish for Rs26,000 and found out that Muhammad Ibrahim, a local fisherman of the Surbandar village, caught the fish and brought it to the market. Rahim said the fish was caught from shallow waters.
He explained that most of the fishermen in the area are aware of the economic importance of the sawfish. “They also know it is critically endangered but they don’t rescue nor release it back into the waters,” he lamented. He said that the rare sawfishes were brought into the local market about 10 to 15 years back. “But they don’t exist now,” he added. Rahim claimed that the local traders will take the species to Karachi and will export it from the port city. Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the technical adviser on marine fisheries for the WWF-P, said that sawfish were in abundance in Pakistani waters and creeks around 30 years back. “But they are very rarely found [now],” he added.
Khan, who has interviewed 40 aged fishermen of the coastal areas about the availability of sawfish in their areas, said that the fishermen used to catch dozens of sawfish daily. The fishermen said the fish mostly lived near mangroves, he said.
“We have to identify the locations of the sawfish first,” Khan said, adding that a protection plan was needed to preserve rare fish in Pakistani waters. He said that sawfish meat used to be exported to Sri Lanka, along with other sharks in salted dried forms. The fins used to be exported to Hong Kong, he added.
Because of the decline in the sawfish population worldwide, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature listed all sawfish species as ‘critically endangered’. Sawfish are also included in appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which prohibits any commercial trade of those species.
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