Manta ray. (Photo: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA)
Overfishing endangers manta and mobula rays
Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 01:30 (GMT + 9)
In an attempt to protect manta and mobula rays from extinction, a marine biologist working for Sri Lanka Manta (manta Trust) Project has been studying Sri Lanka’s fishing industry -- one of the world’s main fishers of rays -- for more than two years.
Chinese medicine’s use of gills as human blood detoxifiers has turned a subsistence fishery into a commercial export industry.
This, in combination with the species’ slow maturation, long gestation and infrequent pregnancies means the manta and mobula populations are not robust enough to survive this trend, the biologist Daniel Fernando fears. He gathers data on the landing of this fish to be surveyed.
In March 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed them for protection, which restricts the export of all manta parts, although domestic trade remains allowed and the law will only go into force in 18 months.
In 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classified the manta ray as “vulnerable,” and while some mobula species are also listed as under threat, trading or fishing bans are not enforced because too little is known about this species, Al Jazeera reports.
Market analysis suggests the total annual gill raker trade volume oscillates between 60,000 kg and 80,000 kg at an estimated worth of USD 11.3 million every year.
Meanwhile, although Chinese dried seafood shops claim this expensive product can work wonders for the human body, some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners say the product actually has no real medicinal value, is not listed in any TCM text and its benefits are only rumours.
While poor fishers in Sri Lanka may focus on their own livelihoods to survive as opposed to the welfare of endangered species, some believe that eco-tourism can generate much more money for poverty reduction. For example, in the Maldives, mantas are protected and manta tourism brings in an estimated USD 8 million a year, making live mantas much more valuable than dead ones.
By Natalia Real