Commercialisation of fisheries bycatch
Commercial fisheries catch a large volume and diversity of non-target species in their nets, known as bycatch. This can range from turtles, cetaceans and sea snakes to small fish, sharks and rays. Although once discarded, with diminishing catches of commercial species and a growing demand for seafood and other products, many bycatch species are increasingly retained and sold.
Coastal species of elasmobranchs (i.e. sharks and rays) are frequently caught as bycatch, particularly in trawler nets. These are sold for human consumption, although for a low value. Elasmobranchs are particularly vulnerable to fishing pressure due to their slow growth, low fecundity and other life history characters, and their catches have been declining in the country over the past two decades. Small-sized bycatch fish are sold as ‘trash fish’, which is primarily used for feed in poultry and aquaculture. Trash fish is largely composed of juvenile fish, and their unchecked harvesting can seriously affect fish populations.
While sale of this bycatch provides an additional income to fishermen, it is not a sustainable situation. This rate of overexploitation can be very detrimental to these species and populations, which will negatively impact catches and hence fisher livelihoods in the long-term.
This issue of bycatch commercialisation has received little attention. Our project is currently monitoring trash fish and elasmobranchs at Malvan, Maharashtra, in order to (1) Assess species, biomass and fishing effort of these bycatch groups and (2) Understand their socio-economic value. Our long-term goal is to align marine conservation with livelihood security of the fishing community, by formulating management strategies for a more sustainable fishery.