Sharks are being harvested and traded in Bangladesh since time immemorial. Unfortunately there is no comprehensive study or any report on the status of the shark fishery in Bangladesh. To review and know the status and potentialities of shark fisheries in Bangladesh, a national workshop on Shark fisheries in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh: status and potentialities was organized by the Support to BOBLME project in Cox's Bazar on 27 November 2010. In Bangladesh, it is not a targeted fishery, rather a by-catch of hilsa and Indian salmon fishery. Sharks are mainly caught by artisanal fishery with drift gill nets, used for catching hilsa and Indian salmon, set bag nets, long lines and trammel nets within 10-80 m depth ranges. Mostly small sized sharks and rays are caught because of gear limitations. Seasonal abundance reveals that shark harvesting gains momentum in October-December period and peaks during January-March, while catch gradually falls after that (April-June) with lowest catches during July-September. Percentage of size abundance revealed that sharks are mostly caught at small sizes (>30 cm) while skates and rays were caught at bigger (>50 cm) sizes.
In the early 2000s catches were around 5,000-6,000 t/yr (about 1-1.5% of the total marine catch), in mid-2000s catches were little over 4,000 t/yr (0.8-0.9% of the total marine catch) and it declined to 3,900-4,200 t/yr during 2009-11 (only 0.77% of the total marine catch). Catch records clearly reflects declining trend and bulk of the catch is small sized ones. The contribution of sharks to the total annual marine fish landings in Bangladesh declined from 2.2% in 1985 to 0.77% in 2011. In the absence of any legislation (regulations or catch limitations in the Fish Act), except for Forest Act and any management plan, the sharks are overexploited indiscriminately. As a result the catch volumes are gradually falling and smaller sizes are caught mostly. In recent days, only rays are harvested as a targeted fishery by special nets and long lines [See BOBLME web-country page Bangladesh (www.boblme.org/bangladesh.html) for the published Report on Shark Fisheries in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh: Status & Potentialities].
In 1999, FAO adopted the International Plan of Action (IPOA-sharks) for the conservation and management of sharks and has mandated for all the states that catch sharks and voluntarily prepare NPOA-sharks and Shark Assessment Report (SAR) for the conservation and management of sharks. Through the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of the FAO, all member countries agreed to better manage shark populations in their EEZs by endorsing the IPOA-sharks. Although the deadline for submission of NPOA-sharks was in 2001, as of June 2010 only 12 of some 37 shark-fishing countries had submitted NPOA-sharks. The regional BOBLME project have a plan to conserve sharks' biodiversity and stocks in the BoB and also develop and exert efforts for the implementation of NPOA-shark in the BOBLME region. BOBLME is also committed to formulate a RPOA-shark for the BOBLME region integrating the 8 NPOAs-shark. Of the 8 member countries, 2 (Indonesia and Malaysia) have already published (but not fully implemented) their NPOA-sharks, 3 (Maldives, Myanmar and Thailand) have drafted NPOA-sharks and these need to be finalized, endorsed and adopted, and 3 (Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka) have still to formulate their NPOA-sharks, although some preparatory work was done during 2009-12 period.
Regional BOBLME project did validation of available information on shark fisheries of member countries; prepare work plans and proposals to develop and implement National Plan of Action (NPOAs-shark), including identification of targeted research/studies and identification of support required, plus recommendations towards the formulation of a Regional Plan of Action (RPOA-shark). The BOBLME has taken the lead in assisting and capacity building of the member countries to address the remaining gaps and issues, raise awareness and improve compliance, implement measures to improve knowledge on shark taxonomy, initiate work towards regional synthesis of NPOAs (a framework for RPOA).
Survey on Shark Fisheries
Artisanal fishers' are the main contributor to marine fish harvest (at present contributing 87% of total marine catch) in Bangladesh. Fishers mainly use mechanized wooden boats and various types of gill nets, seine nets, set bag nets and hooks for catching marine fishes and sharks as by catch.
Major shark landing centers are Kuakata, Mohipur, Alipur and Patharghata in Patuakhali-Barguna area; Pararhat-Zia Nagar, Rupsha, Bagerhat, Dubla Island and Mongla in Khulna-Bagerhat area and Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Teknaf and St. Martin's Island in Chittagong-Cox's Bazar area. In the St. Martin' Island all fishes including the catches of sharks of artisanal fishers' are landed at Bazar para. Shark fishers' of this area use wooden mechanized boats and mostly Ilish jal (hilsa net, a kind of drift gill net) measuring about 4,000-5,000 m long, 5 m wide and of 0.15-0.2 m mesh size. They fish mainly in the sea and around the coasts of the St. Martin's Island and the main land near water borders with the Myanmar at depths of 120-160 m. They often use long lines with steel hooks of 6-8 no. sizes, fixed in nylon ropes, arranged at 6-9 inch apart and hanged at shallow depths of 40 m. Each boat unit is comprised of 7 crews, makes daily trips, except for rough seasons of July-September. Duration of each effort is about 10.0-11.0 h and catch per unit of effort is low, often may be only few kgs. There is no clear information about the nos. of boats and fishers engaged in shark fishing in Teknaf-St. Martin's Island area. Total annual sharks' catch in this area is around 20-50 t.
The shark biodiversity study, of February 2013-February 2014, stretching along the entire coast and the Bay from St. Martin's Island in the east up to Kuakata in the west revealed that, in Chittagong region there are 02 species of sharks, 05 species of sting rays, 02 species of butterfly rays, 01 species of cow-nose ray, 01 species of devil ray and 01 species of bat ray (Manta). In Cox's Bazar region 03 species of sharks (01 species of tiger shark and 02 species of hammer-head sharks), 03 species of sting rays, 02 species of butterfly rays, 01 species of cow-nose ray and 01 species of devil ray were found. In Khulna-Bagerhat region 03 species of sharks and 03 species of sting rays were found. In Patuakhali-Barguna region 01 species of shark, 01 species of skate and 02 species of sting rays were recorded from Patharghata; 02 species of sharks, 01 species of skate and 02 species of sting rays were recorded from Mohipur and 03 species of sharks, 01 species of hammer-head shark and 02 species of sting rays were recorded from Parerhat-Zia Nagar. This survey and other previous studies reveled that there are a total of 71 species of elasmobranch fishes in our waters, of which 27 species are true sharks, 4 species are hammer heads, 4 species are saw fishes, 6 species are skates/guitar fishes, 15 species are sting/whip rays, 10 species are devil/eagle rays, 2 species are butterfly rays and 3 species are electric rays, but no chimaerids (rat fishes).