Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page



F. Hanfee
172-B, Lodi Estate, New Delhi - 110003, India


The seas around India abound with sharks and their associated species, the skates and the rays, exhibiting diversity in their geographical distribution and catch composition. While it is true that the elasmobranch fishery in India has increased over the years the steady decrease in the length of the sharks at the the same time is a clear indication that over-exploitation is beginning to leave a telling effect. Also, as trade in shark products is fast multiplying and the populations are attracting major concerns, it is a matter of urgency and utmost importance that efforts be made to regulate the harvests without upsetting the marine environmental balance. Moreover, collapse of the neighbouring elasmobranch fisheries in Pakistan in 1983 (Bonfil 1994) is a pointer to the need for future catch reductions in the Indian elasmobranch fisheries.

At present, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), statistics the average annual production of sharks in India is about 34 000t (Devraj 1998). The official sources also indicate that the fishery is limited to the 50–70m depth zone where the sharks are fished as a bycatch by many multispecies gears like trawls and the drift gillnets which are used all along the Indian coast. The shark fishery takes a number of smaller species, e.g. spade-nose shark (Scoliodon laticaudus), milkdog shark (Rhizoprionodon acutus), R. oligolinx, Carcharhinus sorrah, C. dussumeiri, C. brevipinna and C. macloti. Apart from these, juveniles of large species, such as C. melanopterus, C. limbatus, C. plumbeus, Sphyrna zygaena and a few others also are caught. The occurrence of many of these species is highly seasonal and their landings vary from centre to centre during the year.

In the past there was no organised shark fishery in the country and the sharks were caught incidentally and formed only a bycatch of the gears then used. During the 1950s and 1960s the shark fishery was more or less neglected and the resource was not adequately studied for the reason that the shark flesh was less preferred as an edible meat owing to its pungent odour caused by the presence of trimethylamine. In those days in the absence of any demand for shark meat, all fishermen did was remove the fins and throw the maimed sharks back into the sea. However, in later years shark meat has gained popularity, both in domestic and international market, in part because of the increase in the demand for seafood in general. The high value fetched by the fins, liver oil, cartilage and skin also boosted the demand for shark that encouraged many to undertake shark fishing. This trend accellerated with the entry of sophisticated fishing trawlers into the fisheries and increasing export demand for shark products. Sharks emerged as a valuable catch and consequently fishermen went after sharks equipped with different gears exclusively to exploit sharks. As fishing for sharks gained momentum in recent years India emerged as a major shark producing country. Much of the trade is, however, still restricted to the west coast of India.

Biological information and size composition of the various species of sharks exploited is scanty except for a limited number of studies. This is mostly due to the highly seasonal and erratic occurrences of most of the species in the bycatches taken by the various gears. Further, the high cost of sampling makes it difficult to carry out detailed studies on their biology.

As noted, targeted fishing for large sharks beyond the traditional fishing grounds using hooks and lines by the fishermen is only recent, e.g. in Thootur. Taking advantage of the fairest of the seasons, these fishermen operate hooks and lines off selected centres along the west coast from Quilon in the state of Kerala to the Gulf of Kutch areas in the state of Gujarat. The Thootur fishermen are known for their skills both in hook and line fishing and drift netting. They mostly fish over extended areas and land on alternate days with an average of 10 to 15 large sharks of 2.3 to 3m length each. Carcharhinus melanopterus, C. limbatus and C. plumbeus dominate the catch. The bramble shark (Echinorhinus bruccus), once considered rare along the Indian coast, commonly occurs in the hook and line catches. Large species like Ahina ancylostoma are also landed. The frequent hooking of the whale shark (Rhiniodon typus) forms an interesting feature along the north-west coast of India (Hanfee 1997). There exists also a seasonal hook and line fishery on the east coast 1.

In view of the present situation - no legislation and management measures, a lack of information on the levels of by catch, survival of discards and deep-sea shark populations - it is difficult to verify the impact of fishing on sharks. As the study was confined to only two states of India, it does not allow conclusions about the Indian-wide situation but it does provide an indication of an emerging crisis.


2.1 The fisheries

The annual average landings of sharks and rays during 1987-96 was 56 000t of which shark constituted 62.5% (35 000t) (Devadoss 1998). Though a harvest potential of 185 000t of elasmobranchs has been indicated for the Indian EEZ, they are not fully exploited. Catches in the exploratory surveys by the Government of India tuna longliners indicate that the pelagic sharks constitute 42% in the Arabian Sea, 36% in the Bay of Bengal, 43% in the Andaman Sea and 31% in equatorial areas. However, there has been no organised industrial fishing for the pelagic sharks till now, though catch of tuna long lines includes C. melanopterus, C. limabatus, C. plumbeus, Alopias vulpinus, A.pelagicus, Isurus glaucus, I. oxyrincus and Sphyrna zygaena. (Devraj, CMFRI, Cochin, pers. comm. 1998). Table 1 gives relevant information about the two states discussed in this report.

Table 1

Marine Fishery Resources of India (State/Union Territories Govt 1995)
StateContinental shelf ('000 km2)Number of landing centersNumber of fishing villagesApprox. length of coast line (km)

Tamil Nadu: During 1979, a catch minimum for the ten year period of 12 393t was recorded and in 1975 a record catch of 20 614t was reported. The average catch for the ten year period was 15 980t. The trend shows a decrease in the catch from 1975 to 1981 and an increase from 1982–84. In Tamil Nadu the shark landings varied from 2948t in 1996 to 10 739t in 1997 with an average landing of 5950.3t during 1994-97. This formed 1.36% of the total Tamil Nadu marine fish production. About 6.9% of the total marine fish landing of the state is accounted for by the major elasmobranchs groups (sharks, skates and rays) constituted by many genera and species.

1 Much information on the small scale fisheries around the Bay of Bengal is available from the Bay of Bengal Programme, 91 St. Mary's Rd, Abhiramapuram, Madra 600 018, India. Further information is available from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, P.B. No. 1603, Salim Ali Rd, Tatapuram, Cochin-682014, India.

Kerala: Sharks, skates and rays formed an average catch of 8000t/yr accounting for nearly 2% of the total landings of Kerala. They formed 13% of the total elasmobranch catches at the all India level. In 1975 landings were 10 000t, which is the highest so far recorded in Kerala. The minimum was 4900t in 1987. During 1994–97 the shark landings in Kerala varied from 1647t in 1997 to 3781t in 1994 with an average of 2600.3t which formed 0.5% of the total marine fish production by Kerala (Kasim 1998).

2.2 Species composition

About 70 species of sharks occur in Indian seas of which about 22 species have only limited occurrence and value; around 12 are moderately abundant though not frequently caught and only six are major species (Table 2) in the fishery. The most common and abundantly fished shark is Scoliodon laticaudus followed by Rhizoprionodon acutus. Among the requiem sharks, Carcharhinus sorrah, C. limbatus and C. melanopterus and the hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini are common and reach a maximum length of one to 2.5m. Other sharks which occur moderately in the catches are the grey sharks, C. macloti, C. hemiodon, C. dussumieri, C. Sealei, Loxodon macrorhinus and Rhizoprionodon oligolinx. These sharks grow up to a metre in length. The snaggle-tooth shark (Hemipristis elongatus), mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), and the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) are larger sharks and grow to more than 2m. The hammerhead sharks, Sphyrna mokarran and Eusphyra blochii grow up to 2m also occur in the catch.

Table 2

Frequency of sharks in the fishery
Heptanchias perloIsurus oxyrinchusCarcharhinus limbatus
Echinorhinus brucusHemipristis elongatusCarcharhinus melanopteros
Chilloscyllium griseumCarcharhinus dussmeriCarcharhinus sorrah
Chilloscyllium indicumCarcharhinus hemiodonRbizoprionodon acutus
Chilloscyllium plagiosumCarcharhinus maclotiScoliodon laticaudus
Stegostoma fasciatumGaleocerdo cuvieriSphyrna lewinii
Nebrius ferrugineusLamiopsis temmincki 
Rhiniodon typusLoxodon macrorhinus 
Alopias ulpinusNegaprion acutidens 
Atelomycterus marmoratusEusphyra blochi 
Halaelurus hispidusSphyrna mokarran 
Halaelurus guaggaRbizoprionodon oligolinx 
Eridacnis radclifei  
Lago omanensis  
Mustelus mosis  
Hemigaleus microstoma  
Carcharhinus amblyrhincoides  
Carcharhinus longimanus  
Carcharhinus leucas  
Glyphis gangeticus  
Sphyrna zygaena  
Carcharhinus sealei  

About 68% of the sharks landed are along the west coast. Scoliodon laticaudus is the dominant species in the catch (83.3%) along the Gujarat and Maharashtra coasts followed by Carcharhinus spp. (13%), Rhizoprionodon spp. (2%) and the tiger shark along with other minor groups constitute the rest of the catch. On the southwest coast (Kerala, Karnataka and Goa) the grey sharks (Carcharhinus spp.) form 56.1% of the major catch of 56.1% followed by the hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini, S. mokarran) - 26.5%, S. laticaudus - 3% and other Carcharhinus shark and hammerhead sharks form 14.4%. On the east coast (Chennai region) the major grey sharks contribute 59.4% of the shark fishery followed by the hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini and Eusphyra blochi) - 23%, Rhizoprionodon spp. - 15%. The other sharks which include the tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvieri, Isurus oxyrhinchus, C. Sealei, Hemipristis elongatus, Chiloschyllium griseum comprise 2.5% of the value (Devadoss 1998).

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala as many as 30 to 40 species of sharks belonging to 15 genera occur along the Tamil Nadu and Kerala coasts. Five species of skates and 15 species of rays belonging to three and seven genera respectively also occur in the fishery. However, only a few species constitute the commercial fishery (Kasim 1998).

The following species of sharks have been observed in the shark fishery along the Tamil Nadu and Kerala coast: Alopias vulpinus, Stegostoma fasciatum, S. obesus, Chiloscyllium indicus, C. griseum, Rhincodon typus, Galeocerdo cuvieri, Scoliodon laticaudus, S. walbeehmii, Rhizoprionodon oligolinx, R. acutus, Eulamia eliioti, Sphyrna blochii, S. zygaena, S. tudes, S. lewini, Carcharhinus sorrah, C. dussumieri, C. gangeticus, C. limbatus, C. longimanus, C. melanopterus, C. brevipinna, Centrophorus molluccensis, Echinohinus brucus, Hemipristis elongatus, Loxodon macrorhinus. Scoliodon laticaudus, Rhizoprionodon acutus, Carcharhinus sorrah, C. limbatus, C. melanoptera, us, Sphyrna blochii, S. zygaena, S. tudes, Laxodon macrorhinus and Stegostoma fasciatum constituted one of the major species in the fishery in Tamil Nadu. Among skates, Pristis microdon, P. cuspidatus, Rhinobatus granulatus, djiddensis, R. obtusus, R. armatus, and Raja mamillidens are recorded in the fishery. Rays recorded in the fishery are Dasyatis bleekeri, D. kuhlii, D. zugei, D.uarnak, D. sephen, D. imbricata, Aetobatus flagellum, A. narinari, Rhinoptera javanica, Manta birostris, Narcine indica, Tygon zuge and Gymnra poecilura. (See Table 3 for common names).

2.3 Distribution of the fishery

Sharks are an important resource among the marine fishes caught in India. The fishery is multispecies and no species is dominant throughout the entire coast of India. Neither a single species, nor a group of species, dominates in the different states. Scoliodon dominates the fishery in the Gujarat and Bombay regions and Grey sharks and hammerhead sharks dominate the catch in Kerala and Karnataka states. The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) has become the target fishery using harpoons at Veraval on the Gujarat coast at some other places, Carcharhinus spp. are targetted and are hunted for their liver and fins.

Though many species constitute the shark fishery along Tamil Nadu and Kerala coast only a few comprise the regular fishery and the species dominance in the fishery differs from gear to gear depending on the area, depth and mode of operation of the gear concerned. Mostly the drift gillnet with larger mesh size (140-200mm) and the hook and line gear, especially that with larger hooks, exploit the shark resource more effectively than the other gears. The large mesh gillnets and hook and line units land bigger sharks such as the Carcharhinus sorrah, C. melanoptera, Laxodon macrorhinus, Sphyraena tudes, S. blochii, Galeocerdo cuvieri, etc. The trawl net and the gillnets with smaller mesh size (40-90mm) land smaller sized sharks such as Scoliodon laticaudus, Chiloscyllium indicus, etc. Along the southeastern coast of Tamil Nadu C. sorrah, L. macrorhinus constitute the major part of the shark landings and along the northeastern coast Rhizoprionodon acutus and S. acutus form the major portion of the landings. Studies on the biology and stock assessment of these species reveal that C. sorrah is exposed to higher fishing pressure and the females are more severely fished than the males along the Gulf of Mannar (Kasim et al. 1998). Similarly R. acutus is exposed to higher fishing pressure (Jagdish and Krishnamoorthy 1986) along the Madras coast.

Table 3

Elasmobranchs occurring in the coastal states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Source : Hanfee (1998)
Sharks Scientific nameSharks Common name
Alopias vulpinusFox shark
Stegostoma fasciatumZebra shark
Stegostoma obesusReef whitetip shark
Chiloscyllium indicusRidge-back catshark
Chiloscyllium griseumCat shark
Rhincodon typusWhale shark
Galeocerdo cuvieriTiger shark
Scoliodon laticaudusSpade-nose shark/Yellow dog shark
Scoliodon walbeehmiiSharp-nosed shark
Rhizoprionodon oligolinxGrey dogshark
Rhizoprionodon acutusMilk dogshark
Eulamia ellioti?
Sphyrna blochiiArrow-headed Hammerhead
Sphyrna zygaenaRound-headed Hammerhead
Sphyrna tudesSquathheaded Hammerhead
Sphyrna lewini-
Carcharhinus sorrahSpot-tailed shark
Carcharhinus dussumieriWhite-cheeked shark
Carcharhinus gangeticusGround shark/Gangetic river shark
Carcharhinus limbatusGrey shark
Carcharhinus longimanusOceanic white-tip shark
Carcharhinus melanopterusBlackfin shark
Carcharhinus brevipinnaSpinner shark
Centrophorus molluccensisSpiny shark
Echinorhinus brucusBrambble shark
Hemipristis elongatusDevil shark
Loxodon macrorhinusSliteye shark
Pristis microdonSmall toothed sawfish
Pristis cuspidatusie-
Rhinobatus granulatusGranulated shovelnose ray
Rhinobatus djiddensisWhite-spotted shovelnose ray
Rhinobatus obtusus-
Rhinobatus armatus-
Raja mamillidensPrickly skate
Dasyatis bleekeriWhite-tail sting ray
Dasyatis kuhliiBlue-spotted sting ray
Dasyatis zugeiPale-edged sting ray
Dasyatis uarnak-
Dasyatis sephen-
Dasyatis imbricata-
Aetobatus flagellum-
Aetobatus narinariSpot-edged ray
Rhinoptera javanicaJavanese cow ray
Manta birostrisGiant Devil ray
Narcine indica-
Tygon zuge-
Gymnura poecilura-

A closer look at the pattern of catches shows that pelagic sharks are more abundant on the West Coast. A different pattern emerges on the east coast where even though sharks contributed 32% to the total sharks caught the share of the batoid fishes taken constituted 53% of the total elasmobranch catch in India (Devadoss et al. 1997). Sudarsan et al. (1988) identified the existence of potentially rich grounds for pelagic sharks off the Gulf of Mannar, (on the East Coast in the state of Tamil Nadu). The incidence of non-conventional species of shark like the bramble shark as shown by their catch by deep sea water trawlers operating off Tuticorin in the Gulf of Mannar is an encouraging feature (Devadoss 1996). The present fishing area (which is mainly exploited by trawlers) falls within a narrow coastal zone up to the 70m isobath and the knowledge of sharks in this area is based on the catches within this zone.

The projected potential Indian yield for sharks and rays is about 0.18 million tonnes of which the share for sharks is 0.12 million tonnes (Sudarsan et al. 1988. At the present level of fishing a large gap exists between the projected potential yield and the actual catch in the offshore waters. It has been also reported that the total potential of the EEZ of India is estimated at 4 470 000t. Of these about 2 260 000t or 50.6% lies within the 50m isobath, around 38% lies within 200m and 11% beyond 200m. (Nair 1998). For a general overview refer to Table 4.

Table 4

Potential resources available, level of exploitation and the potential available for exploitation by depth within Indian EEZ (in million of tonnes)
Depth range (m)0–5050–200200–500OceanicTotal
Neretic pelagics10.742--1.742
Ocenaic pelagics---0.2460.246
Level of exploitation2.080.63NegligibleNegligible2.71
Available for additional exploitation0.200.7370.0280.2461.211

Source: Handbook on fisheries statistics, Govt. of India (1996).

Generally speaking, explotation of elasmobranchs at present along the Indian coast fishing is unbalanced. Some regions are excessively exploited and some are totally unexploited. Kerala comes under the former category with a high level of exploitation. There is scope for expanding the commercial exploitation of sharks (Devadoss 1998), but this needs to be done carefully as discussed below.

Availability of food is largely the limiting factor for any fishery including sharks. On the west coast along Kerala and Karnataka states the sharks fishery is at its peak when mackerel and oil sardines appear in shoals. That the pelagic sharks hunt the fast moving pelagic fishes is evident by the exclusive presence of mackerel and oil sardine in their stomachs during this period. The distribution of S. laticaudus in large concentrations along Gujarat and Bombay coasts is also due to the availability of preferred food. Demersal sharks are abundant in this region and forage on bottom living fauna. The juveniles also inhabit the bottom and are caught by bottom trawls. The large adults, with greater mobility, come to the surface where they are taken by driftgill net gear. The large Scoliodons prefer pelagic fishes while the juveniles feed on the bottom fauna such as crabs, squilla, small prawn, etc. (Devadoss 1998).

Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu has a coastline of 1000km. Sharks are exploited along the entire Tamil Nadu coast and are landed in 352 landing centres by both mechanised and non-mechanised vessels. The major fisheries ports where the trawlers land sharks are Pudumanikuppam in Chennai, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, Mallipattinam, Kodiakkarai, Mandapam south, Mandapam north, Rameswaram, Valinokkom, Tuticorni and Chinna Muttom. Minor jetties where both the trawlers and traditional vessels also land sharks occur in Ennore, Porto-novo, Pazhayar, Arcotuthurai, Sethbavachattram, Kottaipattinam, Jegadapattinam, Pamban, Keelakkarai, Chinna Ervadi, Vembar, Veerapandianpat-nam, Thiruchendur, Colochal and Cape Comorin. Among these, Veerapndianpatnam and Malli-pattinam are the two most important centres where the mechanised gillnetters from Ramnad and Tuticorin Districts migrate and camp during April-September in the first centre and during September- January at the second. They use special large mesh (170–190mm) drift gillnets to harvest sharks and other pelagic species.

Kerala: This state's coastline of 590km is almost one-tenth of Indian's total coastline. Sharks are landed in 222 landing centres along the Kerala coast. Important fisheries ports are Cochin, Sakthikulangara, Munambam, Azheekal, Ponnani, Beypore, Vizhinjam, Quilandi and Azhikkode. The major gears which catch sharks along the Kerala coast are hook and line, drift/set gillnets and trawls. In hook and line fisheries, elasmobranchs form 22% of the catch. Other associated species are catfish (31%), carangids (24%), tunnies and mackerels (5%), and seerfish (2%). The hook and line fishery is prevalent mostly in Trivandrum and Quilon districts and to some extent in Kozhikode. In drift gillnetting elasmobranchs constituted 26% of the catch; the other resource groups include tunnies (25%), catfish (18%), seerfish (14%) and Pomfrets (3%).

2.4 Distribution of landings

The distribution of elasmobranchs in both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal is not uniform. Gujarat state contributes a little over 50% of the total catch from the west coast and Maharashtra and Gujarat share 81% of the shark catches on the west coast and 55% of all Indian shark catch. The east coast contributed 11 000t (Table 5) constituting 32% in the total sharks caught. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh together account for 78% of the total sharks fished along the east coast and 25% of the total sharks caught in Indian coastal waters. Even though sharks appear to be distributed all along the coast, there are places where particular species or groups of sharks are present in large numbers. As stated earlier, S. laticaudus and R. acutus are found in large sharks, which are highly pelagic, are more prevalent along Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu coasts. The pelagic sharks, C. limbatus, C. sorrah and C. melanopterus start appearing in the fishery along Tamil Nadu coast from April until September coinciding with the mackerel and sardine fishery (Devadoss 1977).

2.5 Associated species either as bycatch or discards

The other species which are landed along with the sharks include closely related groups of elasmobranchs, sting rays Dasyatis spp.,eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari); the cownose ray (Rhinoptera javanica); the butterfly ray Gymnura poechilura); the saw fish (Pristis microdon); guitar fishes (Rhynchobatus djeddensis, Rhinobatus granulatus). Besides these elasmobranchs, tuna, carangids, barracudas, billfishes, Rachycentron spp., perches like Lthrinids, are also caught. None of the species are discarded as all are as important to the fishermen as are the sharks, skates and rays.

2.6 Development and current status of the fishery

2.6.1 The harvesting process

Prior to the 1960s the shark resources were exploited only by the traditional gears, e.g. shore seines, boat seines, gillnets, hooks and line, etc. Except for troll and longline fishing, the gears such as shore seines, boat seines and the small gillnets were employed only in shallow waters and landed mostly small sharks such as S. laticaudus, Chiloscyllium indicus, the young of hammer head sharks and other larger sharks. Troll and longline fishing in contrast, landed mostly larger sharks of Carcharhinus spp., Galeocerdo cuvieri, and at times, whale sharks which weighed more than one hundred kilograms and at times several hundred kilograms.

Figure 1

Geographical distribution of shark species

Figure 1

Subsequent to the introduction of the mechanized trawlers, mechanization of the country's crafts and synthetic yarns for making fishing gear during the 1960s and 1970s a change in the landings of sharks occurred and the trawlers landed more and more smaller sized sharks. There has also been a reduction in catch of the troll and long line gear along the Tamil Nadu coast. Consequently though there was an increase in the total landings of sharks, the catch composition revealed that small sized sharks increased more in number in the catch than that of larger sharks.

During the 1980s trolling along the Tamil Nadu coast started diminishing along with shore and boat seines and in the 1990s trolling for sharks and other large game fishes almost ceased. Hence landings of bigger sharks declined during these periods whereas demand for shark increased multifold during this period.

No single gear is used to catch sharks and at present they are caught with hook and line, gillnets and trawls. Improved versions of hooks on long liners using mechanized gears has proved effective in capturing larger fishes including sharks. Gill netting is an effective method for capture of pelagic fishes and nets with large mesh size more than 45mm and upto 500mm are used to capture sharks and other large sized pelagic fishes. Improvements in design and methods of operation have yielded higher catches. Gillnets with different mesh sizes have been used to capture an assorted group of fishes. The length of nets has been increased by joining more pieces so that the total length of the net ranges between 500m and 2500m with a depth of 3 to 15m. Crafts that use gillnets include catamarans, dugout canoes and plant-built boats. In recent years many of the traditional craft have been fitted with outboard motors resulting in higher catches.

Table 5

Shark landings (tonnes) statewise for the years 1985-96. Source: CMFRI.
Gujurat10 5236 9646 9979 2037 2597 13913 26315 97621 62816 04419 68914 88712 464
Maharashtra6 4616 5877 9629 1807 3546 9398 4218 0386 4956 1127 5005 6717 227
Karnataka1 4181 9961 4691 7831 2837581 0468856097649387091 138
West coast23 55120 87719 67825 58317 84517 82424 70627 45132 16725 46731 25223 63024 169
West Bengal9714213644402679391 6921 8201 4181 7181 223795
Orissa1 3763 0771 1611 3741 4921 6031 1122 9861 3021 4851 8601 5021 694
Andhra Pradesh6 2305 3334 1624 8514 0263 6792 4115 6245 2394 0875 0153 7924 537
Tamilnadu1 6543 5455 0474 2954 79990126737 4635 5684 9496 0744 5934 297
East coast9 54812 10710 55610 72310 3966 4637 14817 81213 97411 98414 70811 12011 378
Grand total33 09932 98230 23436 30628 24124 28731 85445 26346 14137 45145 96034 75035 547

2.6.2 Evolution of catch

Landing data for elasmobranchs are available since 1950. The catch has increased three fold since then (Devadoss et al. 1997) through mechanization of the fishing industry including motorization of country boats and fishing operation processes. During 1950-67 the elasmobranch landings from former Madras State varied from 7599t in 1967 to 12 788t in 1966 with an average landing of 10 413t which formed 67% of the total east coast catch of elasmobranchs. On the west coast the annual average catch of elasmobranchs was 17 605t of which Kerala contributed 2517.5t of elasmobranch, i.e., 14.3% of the total catch of the west coast.

During 1985–93 the country's average annual catch of elasmobranch was 55 242.9t; the east coast landed 23 761.5t (43.0%) and the west coast landed 31 454.2t (57.0%). The all India average annual catch of shark was 34 285.4t of which the east coast landed 10 987.4t and the west coast 23 298.0t, 32.1% and 67.9% respectively (Kasim 1998).

During 1994–1997 the all India shark landings varied from 34 683t in 1996 to 45 876t in 1995 with an average catch of 40 248t that formed 1.65% of the total Indian marine fish catch. In Tamil Nadu the shark landings varied from 2948t in 1996 to 10 739t in 1997 with an average landing of 5950.3t during 1994-1997. This formed 1.36% of the total Tamil Nadu marine fish production. During this period the shark landings in Kerala varied from 1647t in 1997 to 3781t in 1994 with an average of 2600.3t which formed 0.46% of Kerala's total marine fish production (Kasim, CMFRI, Kakinadan 1998, pers. comm.).

According to the CMFRI data there were four peak landing years 1974–75, 1982–83, 1992–93 and 1995. Data for sharks landings available from 1985 onwards show that the shark catch fluctuated around 35 000t with 3 peak years in 1992-1993 and 1995 with catches around 45 000t and 46 000t. (Table 5).

From 1985 the catch by different gears used for shark landings were Gillnets 48.5%, mechanized small trawlers 31.5%, hooks and line 12.1%, dol net2 2.5% and the remaining by shore seines, purse seines and boat seines. While landings from nets fishing on the northwest coast of India and small trawlers showed a steady increase over the years, the catch taken by gill nets and hooks and lines has fluctuated (Devadoss et al. 1997).

2.6.3 Fleet characteristics, evolution of the fleet and fishing effort

Improvement in the design of traditional boats and gears began in recent years. Bigger boats as well as trawlers 25–32' in length were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s and were slowly phased out in favour of larger boats of 45' fitted with engine powers of 120hp. Improvement in the design of trawl nets and drifts gillnets has resulted in greatly increased catches. Motorization of traditional boats and catamarans was undertaken and large-scale improvement in the catches encouraged fishermen to further increase their fishing efforts. At present, there are about 31 726 motorized craft and 47 004 mechanized trawlers operating in the Indian seas. The efficiency of gillnets was increased by introducing different mesh sizes and increasing the number of panels in the net.

2 Dol nets are operated in Mahrashtra and Gjuarat on the west coast. They consist of a bag-net operated in depths varying from 15-50m. The net is fixed to stout wooden poles or thick ropes anchored with large stones facing the tides. The catch is hauled during the change of tides. Mesh size varies from 200mm at the mouth gradually reducing to 10mm at the cod end. Because of reduced mesh size at the cod end the gear is very destructive to undersized fish.

Sharks form bycatch in almost all the gears which are employed by the different types of crafts along the Indian coast, as no gear is employed to exploit sharks exclusively except the large mesh gillnets and hook and line gear. The Jada jall, a type of large mesh drift gillnet is used off Gujarat and Maharashtra along the north west coast of India and the shark gillnet is used along the Calicut coast. Along the Tamil Nadu coast, where fishermen operate large mesh sized drift gillnets and hooks and line gear to exploit other resources such as tuna, seerfish, billfishes etc., shark is also an important target species.

Trawlers that fish for shrimp and fish also land sharks to a considerable extent and the other motorized and non-mechnized traditional crafts also land sharks though from shallow waters. Hence, it is impossible to assess the fleet size which exploits the shark resources in Indian seas. However, the fishing effort may be estimated indirectly from the total effort expended by different gears from the percentage of sharks landed by these gears though this estimate cannot be taken as an accurate estimate of effort expanded for the exploitation of sharks. A separate exclusive study on the exploitation of shark resources may provide the needed information on the effort and fleet size where ever the fishery is exclusively aimed at exploiting sharks in India.

Kerala's coast has very high level of exploitation as compared to other states. This is achieved through a large number of traditional indigenous crafts and around 4000 mechanized crafts (Nair 1998).

2.7 Markets

2.7.1 Introduction

The export of marine products has a long history in India. The dry fish trade with neighbouring countries of South Asia has existed since time past. Much of it was confined to shellfish, finfish and fishery products. During the period 1968–1977 Indian marine products were marketed in 93 countries. Marine exports subsequently declined and in 1978 only 35 countries imported fish products from India (Jhingran 1991). Subsequently over the years, India initiated several measures to diversify export trade in marine fish products, largely through the efforts of Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA). Development of marine fisheries on more professional lines to augment export of marine products began in 1959–1960 when several export incentive schemes were initiated and in 1961 the Indian government constituted the MPEDA with enlarged autonomy and executive powers.

A major portion of shark-fin exports taken place from Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra and Chennai in th estate of Tamil Nadu. Geographically, Chennai is centrally located on the shark landing belt of the east coast. Moreover, the road network is reasonable and inland transportation good which allows fins from the west coast to reach Chennai easily. It also has a large commercial port and a well connected international airport. Sharks have always contributed to the marine fish trade, but the purpose of shark fishing has changed over the years from sports angling to target fishing for their flesh and fins, especially as fins have potential export markets.

The meat is sold either fresh or salt-dried in the local markets. Dried salted shark meat is popular in Kerala and a few other states but due to changes in consumer taste, fresh shark meat is preferred now-a-days in most of the cosmopolitan cities. Most of the smaller species are marketed fresh. Large shark like (Carcharhinus melanopterus) of 3m or so may fetch from Rs.500 to 1000 at the major fisheries harbours, such as Cochin in Kerala and Puri in Orissa. And smaller species like Scoliodon spp. can fetch Rs.50–75/ piece in the local fish markets in places like Okha and Veraval in Gujarat.

Shark liver is rich source of oil and vitamins A and D and was in great demand during the Second World War. Now it has lost its importance because of the availability of alternate sources for this product and the oil is only used in the paint industry. Though government oil extraction units are functioning in some of the maritime states there is no organized system to collect the sharks livers. The large liver masses from the whale sharks are scooped out and the fishermen leave the carcasses in the sea. The present highly seasonal fishery is in no way able to maintain a steady supply.

Some meat is exported to Sri Lanka. As soon as the catch is landed, they are auctioned and after removing the pectoral, dorsal and caudal fins and the viscera, the body of large sharks are cut into pieces, washed thoroughly to remove any trace of blood and then sold fresh or salt-cured.

Shark fins are a highly valued commodity in the overseas market such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other southeast Asian countries. The dried fins of grey sharks, saw fishes and guitar fishes are also highly priced. Vivekanandan and Zala (1994) reported that even fins of whale sharks, hitherto discarded, were in good demand at Veraval where whale shark forms a fishery during March-May.

Though the fins of whale shark do not fetch a high price they are targeted because they are easy to hunt them as they are harmless and often come close to inshore islands for basking or feeding in near-shore areas, despite that the method of killing them is tedious and takes almost 6–8 hours of hauling to retrieve the carcass. Whale sharks also have a large liver that yields a large of oil, which is generally consumed locally. A further incentive is that shark meat is highly profitable for the exporters to handle and it is reported that they make huge profits from it. The frozen meat is exported to Taiwan where it is a popular delicacy (Tofu meat). The exporters buy the meat from the fishermen at Rs.5/kg and export it at $1/kg, or even more. One noticeable feature, and a major concern, is that shark fins are exported clandestinely in personal baggage, mainly to Singapore, which is the main market. Thus export figures do not reflect this production.

2.7.2 Revenues from the fishery

Elasmobranch fishing has become an important commercial enterprise on both Indian coasts, earning foreign exchange of Rs3.21.79 million in 1984. A year earlier, in 1983, shark landings constituted 2.78% of the total marine landings, with a catch of 39 367t (MFIS 1983). It is estimated that the total value of sharks landed in India during 1995 was Rs.151.7 crores4 (landing price value), which was 2% of the total value of the marine landings. In 1995–1996 India exported dried fins worth US$3 700 000. Today, India has diversified its shark products and it is exporting dried shark fins and rays, frozen shark meat, gutted finless shark and shark bones. Certain quantities of dried shark meat are also exported and are included in export statistics along with other dried fish.

Depending on the size and quality of fins their value varies from Rs. 1500–2000/kg dried weight. The trend in export of dried fins to overseas markets during the years 1985–95 has been given by CMFRI though they could provide only partial data. According to them, the quantity of fins exported fluctuated from 96t in 1985 to 192t in 1989 and after a fall it increased to 185t in 1994. The value of fins exported went up considerably, from Rs. 13 million in 1985 to Rs.70 million in 1994. Figure 2 indicates a significant increase in the quantity of fins exported between 1991 – 1996 and Figure 3 the variation in unit value of Indian shark fin exports.

2.8 Economics of the fishery

It is difficult to analyse the economics of the shark fishery alone as no gear is exclusively used to capture sharks though gears like drift gillnets and hook and line take sharks as one of the dominant fish caught. Analyses of the gillnet fishery in general at Chennai estimated an annual income of Rs.3 400 000 to 4 300 000 for 10m and 12m boats after allowing for the annual operating expenditures (Luther et al. 1997). At Veraval, where whale shark are a target fishery that has been conducted for some years; from March to May the average value of one shark was Rs.6573 (Vivekanandan and Zala 1994). After allowing for operating costs of Rs.2645, the estimated net profit is Rs.3928 per shark. This is gross profit to the fishermen, i.e. without deducting operational costs. To encourage fishing activity and make it profitable various subsidies are offered by government which include concessional loans from institutions, e.g. banks, to buy boats and nets and supply diesel at cheaper rates. Further, the income from this sector is not subject to taxes. Government income from the fisheries sector is restricted to fees collected from fishermen licences and duties when the product is exported.

3 See Appendix 1 for conversion rates to $US.
4 One Crore = 10 million.

Table 6

Export of shark products (1993–1997)
Fresh shark meatt12 200 00014 200 00058 400 00012 500 000-
 Rs4 900 0004 900 00018 300 0003 100 000-
Gutted finless sharkt4 100 000----
Rs1 600 000-----
Dried shark fins/rayst21 900 0002 4100 00030 300 00018 500 00013 900 000
 Rs95 400 00010 4500 00083 800 00070 700 00059 000 000
Shark bonest100 000Neg.---
 Rs300 0000.0400 000---

Source: MPEDA 1998.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

2.9 The fisheries work force

The work force is drawn mainly from the fisher folk of the region. Culturally, the fisherfolk are no different from the main population except for their low literary rate. Licences to fish, subsides and loans are issued to fishermen by the state fisheries departments. There are about 3638 fishing villages along the coast of India with a population of 5 million of which one million are actively engaged in fishing. The other four million include school children, college pupils and the older and invalided people. Several fishers have chosen jobs in private or Governement agencies. Others have ventured into fishery dependent and independent business ventures. The one million “active” fishermen are engaged in different aspects of fisheries, e.g. fishing, marketing, net making, net mending, maintenance of fishing vessels, workshops for repair of boats, etc. While men engage themselves in most of these activities, the women folk take care of marketing of the produce. They are engaged in auctioning of fish and fish mongering in both fish markets and on the streets.

Fishermen's earnings vary widely depending on the mount and quality of the catch and location. At Chennai (Madras) trawlermen are paid 18% of the total value of the catch which is usually about Rs.300–400/day. Fishermen on gillnet vessels earn Rs280 – 375/day depending on the quality of the catch.


The general management objective for the fishery is to maintain the catch at optimum level while monitoring the catches and to avoid over exploitation of the stock (Devadoss, CMFRI, Chennai, Pers. Comm.). While this is true in general no such objective applies exclusively to shark fisheries. The national objectives that apply to all fisheries are applicable to shark fisheries in general. This is because the national fisheries policies centre around the mechanized trawl fisheries, whereas sharks are mainly fished by other gears such as gillnets and hook and line, thus the present policy is inadequate as an effective management means for the shark fisheries.

No specific objectives have been set so far for the management of the shark fisheries in India at the national level which is a concern considering the fact that sharks are a highly vulnerable group due to their limited fecundity. However, it is well understood that in view of their general biology of slow growth, late maturity, small numbers of young and long life there is a direct relationship between stock-size and recruitment especially when population replacement rates are low. These factors make shark stocks vulnerable to over-fishing and stocks, once overfished, take decades to recover. Any excessive fishing would result in quick depletion of the stocks.

In general fisheries a set of objectives are proposed by administrators in consultation with fishers, managers. The Department of Fisheries is entrusted with the job of monitoring. Their main objective is to sustain the catches. The responsibility to implement the measure rests with the state department of fisheries. While there is no explicit policy for the management of shark fishery either at the national or local level, a comprehensive policy for all mechanised, non-mechanised and motorised sectors is necessary. The objective setting process would be complete only when the fishermen, the scientists and other relevant authorities are involed. The decision to employ large fishing vessels from multinational companies on a joint venture basis was thwarted by the fishermen and the approval for this had to be withdrawn.


4.1 Identification and evaluation of policies

Management objectives relating to access to the fisheries could be achieved by limiting the fishing efforts or number of fishing days in a year. Policy choice (i.e. prohibition of mechanised vessel operations during the southwest monsoon) on measures for other fisheries on the west coast has proven effective. The closed season during the southwest monsoon, from June to August, coincides with the breeding season of most fish and prevents the capture of larvae and juveniles. Development of management policy at the national level was conceived during the 1980s and according to the Marine Fishing Act (1981) was adopted by states on the west coast. The following measures have to be implemented:

  1. Fishing during southwest monsoon to be banned
  2. Reduction of mesh size at cod end of trawl net
  3. Restriction of trawling area beyond 5km from the shore depending on the depth.

An additional suggestion would be to restrict the number of whale sharks caught to limit the number taken.

According to the Marine Fishing Act (1981), the main management measure adopted was the restriction of trawling during monsoon period. This measure may be beneficial to small sharks, however, there is no study yet to prove that this measure has helped sustain the fishery of those sharks landed by trawlers. Whatever the measures, they have not proven fully satisfactory. They remain only partially successful because:

4.2 Resource access

Licences to fish are usually issued to fishermen at a nominal fee that varies from state to state. In Tamil Nadu the fee is Rs25/quarter irrespective of the size of the boat. The boats are registered in ports on payment of a fee. Anybody, any time, using type of gear and craft can fish for shark. There is no limitation on access to the fishery - only nature controls fishermen's access. No specific licences are needed to fish sharks and there are no property rights relating to the resource. The only restriction is that the fishermen are not allowed to use poison or explosive to fish.

4.3 Gear restrictions and vessels regulations

There is no restriction on the use of any type of gears to fish shark and no regulation of vessel characteristics.

4.4 Biological restrictions

Some of the CMFRI studies reveal that, in general, clashes among different growth sectors and reduction in the average size of fin and shellfish caught are clear signs of economic and overfishing. The shark fishermen also revealed that they are not getting sharks of large sizes as they did a few years ago.

There is no regulation prohibiting catch of immature sharks or minimum sizes to be caught. Steps may be contemplated on regulating capture of young Scoliodon in dol nets and trawls. Regulations are also required for juveniles of other species of sharks especially those of whale sharks.

Every year about 500 whale sharks are caught during the three-month's fishing season and this alarming situation has to be considered while formulating the management policy for sharks. Since whale sharks are naturally less abundant and few in numbers, it is necessary that they are managed by restricting the exploitation in the northwest coast during February-March.

4.5 Catch/quota allocation

There is no catch or quota allocation or estimation for any fishery in India.

4.6 Discussion

There is no explicit management of Indian shark fisheries. The only management measure, banning fishing by mechanised trawlers during the southwest monsoon period, has only limited application to shark fishing as sharks are landed mostly by non-mechanised and motorised vessels using gillnets and hook and line gear. Moreover, only small sharks, such as Scoliodon, are taken as bycatch by trawlers.

There is no system of fixing catch quotas, for probably two reasons: (i) the government does not have the institutional capacity to determine quotas for Indian vessels; (ii) there are no legal provisions, as matters stand for setting such quotas for Indian vessels. As for licences, these are necessary in India only for the acquisition of vessels over 20m LOA and these must be obtained from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries. Licences are not, however, required for fishing by Indian fishing vessels. Fishing is free for Indian enterprises, subject to provisions in the Marine Fishing Regulation Act in force in various coastal states. There is no legal provision under Indian law to issue such licences for fishing, although such a provision exists for issuing fishing permits for foreign vessels under the Maritime Zones Act, beyond the territorial waters in the east coast and, broadly speaking, 24 nautical miles on the west coast. Thus, first and foremost is the need to evolve a set of policies for the management of shark fishery in India. Since India is a diverse country, the policy formulation should be developed to the different regions to reflect their ambient requirements and national policies should be constructed based on regional policies.


5.1 Provision of resource management advice

Resource management advice may be sought by the maritime state governments from Central Institutions such as the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and Fishery Survey of India (FSI). One of the mandates of these institutes is to provide resource management advice to the maritime state governments. However it is not a statutory requirement for the state departments of fisheries to consult these research institutes. In several states the prevailing political situation plays a major role in decision making. Mostly, the decisions are influenced by the welfare needs of fishermen rather than by those of the management of the fishery resources. Moreover, the provision of resource management advice is in the form of research papers only. None of the resource management advice has been tested for their validity or applied in the field.

5.2 Fishery statistics

5.2.1 Methods used for collection of catch and effort data

None of the fishing vessels maintain logs of their fishing operations. Therefore, CMFRI uses a multi-stratum random sampling method for the collection of data district wise on the catch and effort of all the marine fishery resources in India. Under this method samples are collected from 2251 fish landing centres. The frequency of observations is up to a maximum of 18 days in a month and is decided by the Fishery Resources Assessment Division of the CMFRI at Cochin.

With this method each coastal district of the different maritime states is divided in different zones which constitute several fish landing centres. One or two zones are allotted to each survey staff member who is posted at different field survey centres of the Institute. The monthly samples to be surveyed of fish landing centres are drawn one month in advance according to the random sampling procedure and the observations are carried out on the first day from 1200 to 1800 and on the second day from 0600 to 1200. The landings of different types of fishing units are recorded according to the norm that if the total units operated on that day is less than 10 the landings of all the units are observed. If the units operated are more than 10, then 10% of the units are observed but the total number of units observed is not to be less than 10 at this stage. In addition to these observations, the landing centres of importance, such as the major fisheries harbour, are treated as single zone landing centres where the observations are carried out 18 days each month with more staff. All field data are processed at the headquarters of the CMFRI at Kochi. The catch and effort estimates for the month are obtained from the day's catch by using appropriate raising factors.

5.2.2 Evaluation of the data collection process

The catch and effort data so collected are evaluated by the CMFRI. The data are collected efficiently by well-trained technical field staff who identify the different fishes, as far as possible to the species level. The data are processed in a timely manner and are then available to end users. The estimations are fairly accurate and the percentage of error, as reported by CMFRI, is only 5%. The precision of the data could be further improved if the frequency of observation days is increased. Financial constraints are an impediment for raising the frequency of observations.

No fishing vessels complete log sheets and it should be made mandatory that all such vessels maintain log of their fishing operations, if not for all the species exploited by them, at least for the important resources such as the sharks.

5.2.3 Data processing and storage and accessibility

There is a National Marine Living Resource Data Centre (NMLRDC) at the CMFRI, which maintains not only the data on catch and effort of different marine fishery resources, but also the data on the biology and length frequencies of different dominant species comprising the fishery resources. Various software, such as dBase, Lotus etc., are used for the processing of the data. The data are accessible by request to the Director of CMFRI and must include a clear statement of the purposes for which the data are required. The data are accessible on payment of a nominal fee by State and Central agencies, universities, fleet operators and other users.

5.3 Stock assessment

5.3.1 Methods

Stock assessment of marine fishes began late in India mainly due to the lack of suitable methods for assessment for fishes. However individual research workers have employed different methods to assess stocks of the different fishes since the 1970s. The stock assessment studies gained momentum after the FAO - Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) stock assessment programme conducted at CMFRI, Cochin in the early 1980s. Since then, stock assessments of Indian fishes, including sharks, are made using:

  1. Virtual Population Analysis model
  2. Thomson and Bell model and
  3. The Beverton and Holt yield per recruit model.

These models are parameterized by collecting data on catch and effort and by estimation of population dynamics parameters like growth, natural and fishing mortalities, etc.

Stock assessment studies on shark resources are under taken by CMFRI and to a limited extent by university departments. In CMFRI, apart from collecting catch and effort data on the shark resources at an all-India level, studies on the resource characteristics of sharks have been carried out in selected research centres along both the east and west coast of India. In these research centres, in addition to the collection of a detailed information on the catch and effort on the shark landings by different crafts and gears, length frequency and biological information of the dominant species are also collected. In the absence of the required information on the length frequency, length- weight relationship, growth, mortality rates etc., assessment of the stocks of the shark resource as a whole must be done using the surplus production methods, e.g. that of Schaefer (1957).

5.3.2 Biological advice review process

In the absence of proper management measures for control of the shark fisheries no resource review is possible. However, according to Devadoss (CMFRI, Chennai), the CMFRI and a few state governments are contemplating such a review.

5.3.3 Sustainability of the resource

The maximum sustainable yields and sustainability of the shark resources must be determined by detailed studies on the resource as whole or the most important component species, particularly as India has a wide fishing area on both the coasts with different environmental factors which influence the population characteristics of the various shark populations. A number of separate stocks should be assumed to exist.

There is a large gap between the estimated potential yield of shark of about 120 000t and actual 35 000t caught. At the present rate of fishing and with the increase in effort in the inshore waters sustainability of resource in the inshore waters appears to be threatened. However there is believed to be good scope for developing the fishing in the offshore waters.

5.3.4 Discussion

There is no management planning process exclusively for shark fishery in India. The management policies have yet to be evolved and tested in the field for their validity and applicability. The maritime states along the West Coast take management decisions for fishing operations prior to the southwest monsoon each year. Accordingly, the operations of mechanised craft are banned for 45– 125 days in different states every year. On the East Coast there is no restriction on fishery and the marine fishery, including the shark fishery, remains open to all.

CMFRI scientists claim that the present area of fishing is confined to within 50m isobath along the coast. The potential in the EEZ beyond the present fishing area appears to be high, about 80 000t. Tapping this potential resource spread over such a large area may be expensive, as large capital inputs for acquiring large vessels would be required. To exploit these potential resources, including the sharks in the EEZ, the government of India charted large foreign trawlers in 1980s whose owners subsequently entered into joint ventures with Indian companies. But, national small-scale fishermen opposed both these schemes and they were withdrawn.

It is difficult to provide a perspective of the shark fishery management, as there are no extant regulatory measures in India. However, some opinions of people concerned are given here to highlight if there is any intention on the part of authorities to formulate proper management measures for the shark fisheries of India.

The management policies should consider the effect of the fishery regulation for the shark fishery on the fishery of other resources. Since the trawlers land small sharks and juveniles of the large sharks in large amounts, the regulatory measures for the static, or passive, gears which exploit sharks exclusively may not be suitable for trawlers. Some researchers have suggested that some of the smaller sharks, e.g. S. laticaudus and R. acutus, are overfished (owing to their low fecundity) by trawlers and gill-netters but are able to withstand the fishing pressure because of their faster growth rates. However, the larger sharks, such as those belonging to the genus Carcharhinus are oceanic in distribution. One has to venture into the deeper portion of the ocean to exploit these species and their exploitation in India is considered to be low. As there are only a few, limited organised fisheries for sharks in India it should not be difficult to study them in detail so as to establishing appropriate management policies.


As most of the important fishes breed during the monsoon, a ban on fishing by mechanised vessels is imposed by the state governments along the west coast. Fishing by the mechanised vessels including those operating purse seines has been banned from June to September every year. There is also restrictions preventing reduction in mesh size in the cod of trawl net5. The area of fishing for mechanised and traditional fishing has also been delimited.

There is no specific regulation of shark fishing in India, i.e. there is no regulation of the total catch, no specific closed seasons for sharks and no control on the effort input. In some cases, trawlers have been banned from the northern side of Tuticorin in Tamilnadu during October-December and during the southwest monsoon, along the Sakthikulangara coast in Kerala. These regulations were not meant to specifically protect shark resources.


7.1 Legal status

The fishery is a common property and as such is open to all. Anyone can fish for shark at any time using any kind of fishing effort method except poison and dynamite. At present fishery managers are not equipped with any legal powers to manage the shark fishery. The authority to regulate the fishery rests with the government. In accordance with the principles laid down in clause (b) and (c) of Article 39 of the constitution, the states are free to enact laws to regulate fishing along their coasts, e.g. The Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983 confers the powers on an officer of the rank of Assistant Director of fisheries to regulate and restrict, or prohibit, fishing; to issue licences to the owners of the vessel; to suspend and/or cancel such licences on the issue of non-compliance of regulations. Registration of vessels is mandatory under Section 11 of the MPEDA Act 1972.

Although there are no clear restrictions or regulations on shark fishing in India, there are several pieces of legislation relating to it, by virtue of it being a part of our natural environment. The Constitution of India places a duty on the States to direct its policies to “protect and improve the environment”6, which would include fisheries and therefore shark fisheries. Similarly, the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 makes it obligatory for the Government to take necessary steps for the protection of the environment. Under this Act, the Central Government issued a notification in February 1991 declaring coastal stretches up to 500m from the High Tide Line as Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ) and regulating industrial and other activities in the CRZ. However, the thrust of this law is protection of the land and not the seas and therefore it does not directly affect shark fisheries.

5 Shrimp trawlers characteristically use cod-end mesh sizes of 12 – 14mm; fish trawlers use cod-end mesh sizes of 16 – 20mm.
6 Constitution of India 1950, Art. 48-A:“The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”. Constitution of India 1950, Art.51-A (g): It shall be fundamental duty of every citizen “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures...”

In 1897 the British enacted the Indian Fisheries Act. This Act was broadly based, and legislated to “provide for certain matters relating to fisheries”. However, it is felt that this Act has little relevance to today's situation. With Independence, competence to legislate on “Fisheries” was vested with the State under Entry 21 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, while competence to legislate on “fisheries beyond territorial waters” was vested with the Union Parliament under Entry 57 of List 1. The State Legislature has thus exclusive competence over fisheries situated within the territory of its State, including those within its adjoining territorial waters.

However, the Indian Fisheries Act of 1897 continues to be the basis of laws relating to fisheries in India and most States have made this Act applicable to their States or have based their local laws on it. The Act seeks to protect fish by prohibiting certain activities - for instance, Section 4 prohibits the destruction of fish by explosives in inland waters and along coasts and Section 5 prohibits the destruction of fish by poisoning waters. Violations of these provisions of the Act are met with penal action and therefore all dispute settlement powers lay with the criminal courts.

As in other enabling legislation, the power of the Indian Fisheries Act is in the delegated regulations or the rule-making. The Act allows for the protection of fish in selected waters by the framing of Rules by the concerned States Governments. These rules may prohibit or regulate specific matters for fixed periods of time, including (i) the erection and use of fixed engines; (ii) the construction of weirs; and (iii) the dimension and kind of nets and modes of using them. It may also provide for the prohibition of all fishing in specified areas for a period not exceeding two years.

In its application to the State of Tamil Nadu, (as framed by the State) the Rules may prohibit or regulate the above subject matters “permanently or for a specified period of time”. This means that certain areas, or activities, could be permanently prohibited. It also expands the rule making power to cover the dimension and kind of the contrivances to be used for taking fish generally, or any specified kind of fish, and the modes of using such contrivances”. This would make the protection of certain fish, including the shark, feasible - both by prohibiting the taking of the species or the prohibition of certain methods of fishing.

Similarly, in 1972, the Wildlife Protection Act was legislated for the protection and conservation of wildlife and their habitat. However, neither the shark nor any other species of fish has been identified for exclusive protection under this Act, though fish habitats have been so protected. This protection has been through the provisions of Chapter IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, which allows for the declaration of such habitat as Marine National parks or Sanctuaries within which entry and activities (including fishing) are prohibited or severely restricted. In India, the following Marine National Parks/Sanctuaries exist:

  1. The Marine National Park, Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat (West coast)
  2. The Marine N.P, Gulf of Mannar, Tamil Nadu (East coast)
  3. Mahatma Gandhi Marine Park, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (East coast)
  4. Pulicat Bird Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu (East coast)
  5. Nalbund-Chilka Sanctuary, Orissa (East coast)
  6. Point Calimere Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu (East coast)
  7. Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, Orissa (East coast)
  8. Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, Orissa (East coast)

The Committee also recommended that the fleet size for different fishing grounds be fixed taking into account the maximum sustainable yield and the need for conservation of resources. Unfortunately, to date, no concrete steps have been initiated towards implementing these recommendations.

A perusal of these laws reveals that the law of fisheries is more of an administrative function than a legislative one. It is also apparent that control over fisheries is left to the discretion of the rule making authority since the authority has power to decide the details of the application of the law. Typically, each of the above mentioned pieces of legislation have a different authority to enforce the provisions of the Act. This leads to an overlapping of jurisdictions and the Government would be wise to accept the Murari Committee's recommendation to merge all these bodies into a separate Ministry.

7.2 Enforcement problems

Mortality of undersized individuals is a major problem in almost all the fisheries that target large-sized species. Hence, to increase the age at first capture, mesh size regulation is one of the important modalities. This may be possible to some extent, for gillnet fisheries where the mesh size can be regulated by fixing different mesh sizes of gillnets for different fishing areas, e.g. the sardine gillnets which use small mesh may be used only in shallow waters; gillnets with slightly bigger meshes may only be used in deeper waters, and those with the largest mesh sizes may only be used in oceanic waters. But trawls cannot be regulated in this manner and it is this gear that lands most of the juveniles of the bigger fishes such as sharks and this is a serious problem. Second, fishing during off season is banned along the west coast. Other regulations, such as mesh size and area clauses for different fishing sectors, cannot be enforced due to a lack of marine patrolling capacity.

7.3 Surveillance

Since there are no regulations to enforce there is no surveillance of shark fisheries in India. In general, surveillance of fishing vessels is not done by the authorities but a maximum fine by the State Government of Rs.1000 is provided in the regulation Act for vessels with a fish catch of value exceeding Rs.5000.

7.4 The legal process

There is no legal basis for the enforcement of fishing regulations with regard to the shark fishery, but fisheries departments are responsible for enforcement of fishing regulations in general. So far, the disputes which arise are mostly due to operational losses by fishermen (e.g. lost stationary gear because of trawlers) and are solved through arbitration in meetings convened by the Regional Assistant Director of Fisheries with the participation of the Head of Fisheries Societies and Associations. This results mostly in monetary fines. The adjudication officer above the rank of Assistant Director of Fisheries determines culpability and is deemed to have the power of a civil court. The officer has power to enter, search, seize and fine any vessel for non-compliance of the regulation.


8.1 Profitability of the fishery

Shark fishing is profitable and the benefits are shared by all the sectors of the trade - the producers (i.e. fishermen) investors, wholesalers, retail traders and exporters. No specific economic analyses are available.

8.2 Issues of equity and efficiency

The government takes care of the social welfare implications of management. In fact, social welfare gets priority over resource management when formulating management measures. The fishermen's co-operative societies are involved in developing management policies. As there is increasing awareness among the fishermen of the declining status of stocks, in a few localities the fishermen themselves voluntarily follow restrictive measures.


Many people have helped with this study, all of whom cannot be mentioned. I collectively thank all, but foremost Mr. Samar Singh, Secretary General, WWF-India for his support and encouragement. I thank Mr Manoj Misra, Director TRAFFIC-India for his help and for reviewing this paper. A special appreciation goes to Dr P.V. Dehadrai, Offiicer on Special Duty- Agricultural Research Institute, PUSA and Dr M. Devraj-Director CMFRI Cochin for their help during the work. Thanks are also due to Dr Y.S. Yadava, Development Commissioner - Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture. A special mention is recorded for Dr P. Devadoss Senior Scientist (Retd.) CMFRI-Chennai and Dr Kasim Senior Scientist, Kakinada station of CMFRI without whose help this work would have been impossible. For their helpful attitude, support and information I also thank Bharath Jairaj, Citizen Action Group-Chennai, Mr. Rajan, Sebastian Mathew and Satish babu of CISSF and Dr Alfred Selvakumar ADG Marine Fisheries, Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR). I am thankful to Mr Premachandran, Director - MPEDA, Delhi and Mr V.K. Dey, Deputy Director - MPEDA, Cochin for providing data. I specially thank Raphel Jose, Santhosh Babu and Parikshit Gautam for their useful comments and my TRAFFIC colleagues Rahul Dutta and Sudha Mohan for helping prepare the final document. Above all I thank Rathin Roy, BOBP, Chennai, for showing confidence in my work.


Anon 1992. Hard cash in the soup bowl. Bay of Bengal News. 48:13–14.

Bonfil, R. 1994. Overview of World Elasmobranch Fisheries. FAO Rome.

Dahlgren, T. 1992. Shark longlining catches on India's east coast, Bay of Bengal News, 48:10–12.

Devadoss, P. and M.D.K. Kuthalingam 1985. The present status and future prospects of elasmobranch fishery in India. CMFRI special Publication, 40:29–30.

Devadoss, P. 1977. Studies on the elasmobranchs of Portonovo coast. Ph.D Thesis, Annamalai University, Chidambram: 210pp.

Devadoss, P., E. Vivekanandan, S.G. Rage, G. Mathew and S. Chandrasekhar 1997. Elasmobranchs resources of India. M.S. submitted. CMFRI Golden Jubilee Publications.

Handbook on fisheries statistics, Govt. of India (1996).

Hanfee, F. 1997. Trade in Sharks and shark products in India. TRAFFIC-India publication. 50pp.

Jagdish, I. And B. Krishnamoorthy 1986. Biooogy and population dynamics of the grey dog shark (Rhizoprionodon acutus Ruppell) in Madras waters. J.Fish. 33:371–385.

Jhingran, V.G. 1991. Export of Fishery Products. Fish and fisheries of India.

Joel, J.J. and I.P. Ebenezer 1992. Longlining, specifically for sharks, practised at Thootoor. Mar. Fish. Info. Service. 121:5–8.

Kasim, M.H. 1991. Shark fishery of Veraval coast. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. India.33 (1&2):213–228.

Luther, G., P. Parmeswaran Pillai, A. Jayaprakash, G. Gopakumar 1997. Gillnet fisheries of India. Mar. Fish. Info. Service. 150:1–24.

MFIS 1983. Marine Fisheries Information Service T & E Series, No. 52.

Nair, K.G. Fisheries byproducts. CIFT Cochin release.

Nair, N.B. 1998. Natural Resources of India. WWF Thiruvanantpuram publication.

Product profile. Sharks and shark based products. MPEDA.

Schaefer, M.B. 1957. Some considerations on population dynamics and economics in relation to management of the commercial marine fisheries. J. Fish, Res. Bd. Canada 14(5):669-.

Sivasubramaniam, K. 1992. Pelagic shark in the Indian Ocean. Bay of Bengal News No.48.

Vivekanandan, E. and M.S. Zala 1994. Whale shark fishery of Veraval. Indian J.Fish. 41(1) :37–40.

Rates of conversion from Indian Rupees to the US$ used in this report
1984 :11.35
1985 :12.33
1986 :12.60
1987 :12.94
1988 :13.90
1989 :16.21
1990 :17.50
1991 :22.71
1993 :31.25
1994 :31.16
1995 :32.40
1997 :36.00
1998 :40.00

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page