Bangladesh takes major step to protect threatened sharks, rays

AFP file photo

The government recently took a major step to improve the protection of threatened sharks and rays by updating the list of species and species groups under the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act 2012, said a press release.

Bangladesh is a global hotspot for some of the world’s most threatened marine wildlife, including sharks and rays. Sharks and rays help maintain an ecological balance and they contribute to a healthy ocean supporting healthy people.

The updated list empowers the strict protection of eight genera and 23 shark and ray species, while allowing the sustainable exploitation, consumption, and trade of one genus and 29 species if their catch is found to be non-detrimental to wild populations.

Sharks and rays generally grow and reproduce slowly, meaning that they are vulnerable to overfishing. Many species are threatened with extinction without urgent action taken to protect them. Sharks and rays are highly valued for their fins, gill plates and skins exported to international markets.

“Bangladesh became a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981 and of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in 2005. It is our obligation to control legal trade and combat illegal wildlife trade, also for sharks and rays. The environment, forest and climate change ministry of is working dedicatedly to enact our country’s strong commitment to international conventions for wildlife conservation,” says Md Mostafa Kamal, secretary to the environment, forest and climate change ministry.

Md Amir Hosain Chowdhury, chief conservator of forests explains that “More than half of the 116 shark and ray species confirmed or suspected to occur in Bangladesh are threatened with extinction. This amendment empowers the forest department and other law enforcement agencies to be proactive in protecting some of the worlds most threatened marine wildlife while at the same time it provides a framework for the sustainable exploitation of non-threatened species for the benefit of local fishing communities.”

“This updated list prepared by the forest department in consultation with the department of fisheries and national and international experts, and with technical support from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), incorporates new information on sharks and rays in Bangladesh and builds on the country’s international, regional and constitutional commitment to protect threatened marine wildlife and their habitats,” says conservator of forests Mollah Rezaul Karim of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle.

ASM Jahir Uddin Akon, director of the Wildlife Crime Control Unit of the forest department, explains, “The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES regulates the international trade of sharks and rays. The convention prohibits trade in three species of sawfish that still occur in Bangladesh. The convention also requires an official permit from the Forest Department to export 25 other shark and ray species that occur in Bangladesh. These permits can only be issued if there is strong evidence that their trade will not harm wild populations.”

“This improved legislation is a critical step towards reducing the extinction risk of sharks and rays in the Bay of Bengal,” says Md Sharif Uddin, director (marine) of the Department of Fisheries. “Enforcement of these regulations must go hand in hand with promoting the live release of protected species and improving our understanding of the ecological benefits of sustainable fisheries. If fishers, traders, and consumers understand that by protecting threatened sharks and rays, they are also safeguarding their livelihoods and food security, Bangladesh can turn the tide from the overexploitation to sustainable conservation management.”

Support from the Shark Conservation Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Shark Conservation Project enabled WCS to assist the government of Bangladesh with the formulation of the amendment