Fishermen rather opted to rip their nets to disentangle a giant whale shark, which got trapped accidentally off Balochistan coast this mid-week. Usually the fish species would fall victim to the seafarers’ hunts for they would protect their fishing nets from damage. However, the fresh incidents indicate a change in the fishermen approach towards protecting marine life, which the WWF-Pakistan takes credit for training them.
In two different incidents, fishermen freed trapped whale sharks in Balochistan seawaters last Wednesday, September 9. “Two endangered whale sharks – the world’s largest fish species, were successfully released by fishermen on September 9, 2015 in Balochistan waters,” The WWF-Pakistan said Friday.
In the first incident: Skipper of Karachi-bound tuna fish vessel, Gul Hussain released an 18-foot long whale shark trapped in gillnet in Ormara waters some 45 kilometres off the coast, where seawater depth is believed to be about 1,030 meters. In the second one: Another Karachi-bound fishing boat’s captain Hasnat Khan at the same time rescued a 16-foot long whale shark from his net some 155 kilometres off Churna Island at sea-level depth of 155 meters.
Gul Hussain, according to the WWF-Pakistan, was operating his gillnet boat in Ormara waters when he encountered with the whale shark. He laboured for 25 minutes to finally get the species freed safely from the net. “A part of the net of about 275 meters was lost in the process as fishermen have to cut the net to release the whale shark. Nakhuda Gul Hasan was proud to inform that this was third whale shark that he has released so far,” the Fund said.
Skipper Hasnat, whose city of origin is Peshawar said that the damage to his fishing net had cost him significantly, yet he was happy for disentangling the giant whale shark safely. His struggle spanned about 20 minutes to really become able to free the trapped marine giant off Churna Island.
Since 2013, according to the Fund statistics, 14 whale sharks including the recent two, two mobulids rays, two sunfish, one Longman’s beaked whale, two bottlenose dolphins and thousands of marine turtles have successfully been released after being trapped in fishing nets.
Technical Advisor for Marine Fisheries to the WWF-Pakistan, Muhammad Moazzam Khan said that the gillnet fisheries was known for high mortality of protected, endangered and threatened species namely whale sharks, turtles and dolphins in the country’s seawaters.
“Historically there used to be an important whale shark fishery in Pakistan but since 1970’s aimed fishery for whale shark using harpoons was stopped,” he said. Whale sharks, he said, are neither consumed in Pakistan nor their meat is exported. “However fishermen used to extract oil from its liver for smearing hull of the fishing boats to keep it water-tight. The meat is used for poultry meal,” he added.
The trapped whale sharks always damage fishing nets, he said, adding that the tearing up of the meshes cost fishermen dearly. “Fishermen, therefore, used to kill these gentle giants in order to save their nets,” Moazzam Khan said. Senior Director Biodiversity, WWF-Pakistan, Rab Nawaz appreciated the fishermen for their efforts in releasing the two whale sharks simultaneously. Whale sharks are not legally protected in Pakistan but now the fishing community considers them an important marine animal and ensures their protection, he said.
“The WWF-Pakistan is working in close collaboration with fisheries and wildlife departments of Sindh and Balochistan to include whale shark as a protected species,” he said, asking the government to evolve a policy to bring gillnet fishing to an end in the country,” he said.