According to a press release release by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan, nakhuda (skipper) Badsha Nawab released the spinetail mobula which got trapped in a net on October 12, 2015.
WWF Pakistan also mentioned in the release that this is the third mobulid ray safely released by fishermen since last year. First mobulid was released on May 26, 2014 whereas a large mobulid was release on August 23, 2015.
The animal protection organization also stated that the population of mobulid rays is under serious threat mainly due to overfishing, habitat degradation and their very slow reproductive pattern. Considering their importance WWF-Pakistan initiated an awareness programme for fishermen and trained them to safely release these charismatic and gentle marine animals.
There is international concern that mobulids are slow to mature (more than 8-10 years), are long-lived (more than 40 years) but reproduce very slowly. A manta ray will give birth to a single pup every two to five years. These rays are world renowned for their charismatic beauty, gentle behaviour, and inquisitive playful nature. For this reason, tourists spend nearly US $140 million annually to see these rays in the wild providing an important source of income to many countries, the press release said.
WWF added that one of the reasons for their decline is the emerging demand for ray gill plates in the traditional Chinese medicine. Although it has not scientifically proven to have any health benefits, the demand for gill plates has compelled fishermen in some of the countries to target mobulids. It added that although the gill plates of mobulids are not exported from Pakistan but mobulids are regularly being caught as bycatch of gillnet fisheries in Pakistan.
“WWF-Pakistan trained fishermen now strive to release non-target and endangered species. Since 2013 when WWF-Pakistan initiated this training programme 14 whale sharks, 3 mobulids rays, 2 sunfishes, 1 Longman’s beaked whale, 2 bottlenose dolphin and thousands of marine turtles have been successfully released. Rab Nawaz, Senior Director (Biodiversity), WWF-Pakistan considered the safe release of these rare animals as a good omen for the fisheries of Pakistan and for wildlife lovers that fishermen are now concerned about protection of threatened species found in Pakistan. On occasions, they have to scarify a part of their costly fishing nets to get the endangered marine animal released”, the release further stated.
Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries) of WWF-Pakistan Mohammad Moazzam Khan informed that the mobula rays or mobulids include large species of fishes, closely related to sharks and sting rays. The mobulids can grow to very large size with some manta ray individuals reaching up to 9 meters wide. These fish are commonly found in the warmer, tropical of waters of the world’s oceans. Manta rays are graceful swimmer and their short tail allows the manta ray to have more acrobatic movement and they have even leap out of the water.
“There are six species of mobulids belong to two genus Manta and Mobula have been reported from Pakistan. Giant manta (Manta birostris) is the largest of the mobulids found in Pakistan. This species used to be of common occurrence before 1970 with some of the specimens attaining across disc breadth to be about 7 m. There were a number of records of this species either basking or leaping out of water behind Churna Island. There was no record of this species from Pakistani waters for more than 30 years, however, WWF-Pakistan collected recent evidences of its occurrence in Pakistan in April, 2014 and October 2015. Another species Manta alfredi was also reported for the first time from Pakistan by WWF-Pakistan”, WWF stated.
The animal rights organization added that in addition to Manta five species of Mobula are also reported from Pakistan. These include Longhorned mobula (Mobula eregoodootenkee), Spinetail mobula (Mobula japonica) Chilean devil ray (Mobula tarapacana), Shortfin devil ray (Mobula kuhlii) and Smoothtail mobula (Mobula thurstoni). These are caught as bycatch of gillnet fisheries of Pakistan. Although no information about the commercial landings is available, WWF-Pakistan has started a project on the mobulids of Pakistan since July 2013 and observed that annually about 1,500 m. tons of mobulids are landed along the coast.