In Pakistan, changing fishing methods is saving thousands of dolphins
In 2013, at least 12,000 dolphins were killed in Pakistani territorial waters in the Arabian Sea, after they got stuck in huge nets thrown by fishermen.
These gillnets, known locally as ‘bites’, were notorious for their high level of bycatch.
Pakistani territorial waters are home to 25 species of dolphins, particularly spinner, bottlenose and tropical dolphins – and these endangered creatures have been falling prey to nets in huge numbers.
But in just five years, the number of dolphins killed has dropped dramatically to just 186 dolphins.
Behind this radical reduction was a small but crucial shift from that traditional fishing method – subsurface gillnets instead of surface trawls.
As part of a pilot project launched in 2012, more than 700 local fishermen were trained to use the other type of net, and the results of the change became clear over time, Muhammad Muazzam Khan, technical advisor for WWF Pakistan, told Anadolu.
Since 2018, according to Khan, who headed the project, dolphin deaths due to entanglements have become “extremely rare, if not zero.”
“There were no previous estimates or studies. It was thought that dolphins were being killed by these fishing nets, but statistics were not conducted until 2012.”
Khan added that despite the huge difference with the shift in fishing methods, dolphins are still considered an endangered species, with about 100,000 of them still killed annually in the Indian Ocean alone.
More hunting, less bycatch
The subsurface net, known locally as “tello”, is placed two meters (6.5 ft) underwater, as opposed to a traditional gillnet, which is a common fishing method used to catch tuna and similar fish, especially by small fisheries in coastal states. From the Indian Ocean.
It’s also relatively hassle-free, with far fewer chances of waste and an overall faster process.
“The use of subsurface nets has proven to be very successful,” Khan said.
“Not only did this reduce entanglements of dolphins and other non-target species, but it also led to a significant increase in the catch of target species, including yellowfin tuna and skipjack tuna.”
Bycatch with traditional nets mostly included cetaceans, creatures belonging to the whale or dolphin family, and sea turtles, according to the WWF Pakistan report.
The report said that before the shift, there were an estimated more than 12,000 whales and 29,000 sea turtles entangled in gill nets annually.
Underground nets have reduced the catch of some species with high monetary value, such as billfish and dolphin fish. However, fishermen say they are able to make up for the loss due to increased catches of target species such as yellowfin tuna, longtail tuna, and skipjack tuna.
“Apart from catching more tuna, saving time is another important benefit,” Agha Muhammad Iqrar, a fisherman from the southern coastal city of Karachi, told Anadolu.
Iqr, who started using subsurface nets six years ago, said he only had to arrange an extra piece of rope to convert the traditional gill net into a subsurface net, which cost him just 5,000 Pakistani rupees ($16).
“Previously, we spent a lot of time releasing non-target catches, mostly dolphins, which could also damage our nets,” he said.
Iqrar, who just returned from a week-long fishing trip, added: “I haven’t seen a dolphin tangled recently.”
He added that cetacean entanglement is extremely rare at present, thanks to the new method, and even if they get stuck in the net, their chances of survival are much higher.
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(Tags for translation) Arabian Sea