A recent Friend of the Sea audit at the Indian bottom trawling fishery for Metapenaeus species (king, brown and pink prawns) has evidenced the fishery’s non compliance with Friend of the Sea sustainability criteria. The audited fishery consists of 14 meters vessels towing trawl nets of up to 140 meters on the seabed at depths of 40 to 60 meters, 8 to 20 km off the coast. A representative fishery was audited on site however, given the nature of the non compliances, they can be applied to the whole East Indian Ocean fishery similar and homogeneous with the audited one, including freezer trawlers – up to 23 meters – which operate at depths of 100 meters or more.
While some data on the stocks status was available for the Eighties and the Nineties, suggesting overexploitation to be already occurring at the time, almost no updated information is available and FAO considers – in its World review of Marine Captures, 2006 – the shrimp stocks in the area as overexploited.
According to the on-site auditors “no supporting record or data is available with boat owners or company representative to verify the level of discard” and while it is generally accepted that the overall level of by-catch is lower than freezer trawlers, official research has been carried out in recent years, evidencing how trawlers operating near the coast are responsible of high levels of turtles mortality. An estimate 50.000 endangered sea turtles are drowned by the shrimp trawlers in India every year: olive ridley, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead. Deepsea sharks by-catch is also a major issue in the trawl fishery and the Indian bottom trawl fishery accounts to approximately 60% of the landings. An estimated 70 millions per year are caught mainly by the shark finning industry. Lack of reporting from the audited fishery does not allow for verification. From interviews with the fishermen, the level of discard could be around 10-15% which is anyway higher than the maximum allowed by the Friend of the Sea standards.
The on-site Auditors reported that TEDs (Turtle Excluder Devices) are gradually introduced. “While this might be evidence that turtles by-catch is an issue with the fishery, Friend of the Sea considers this initiative to be significant in lowering the potential impact of the fishery in the forthcoming years.” comments Dr Bray, director of Friend of the Sea “If the fishery will request a new audit in the future, we would expect as a minimum TEDs use to be mandatory and enforced and independent onboard observers reporting on any endangered species mortality.”
Efforts to diversify fishing activities and divert them from shrimp to fish catching are in place and this could lead to a decrease in fishing effort. “Introduction of Global Position Systems and closed season for the fishery are also tools which, if properly used and duly enforced, might help in future years the fishery to be found compliant with sustainability criteria” concludes Bray “We hope the current non compliance result will further motivate the fishery to fasten the speed of management improvements.”