Gandhinagar, Feb 19 (IANS) A total of 781 whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, have been rescued and freed by fishermen along the coast of Gujarat since 2004 as a result of an awareness campaign launched following the declining numbers, with the help of religious leaders’ interventions.
The awareness campaign was launched to rescue whale sharks after it was protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. In 2001, the whale shark species was placed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972, rendering the capture and killing of the fish a cognizable offence.
The significant cursor for the awareness initiative has been the interventions of religious leaders like Morari Bapu, a Ramayan story teller, who is revered in the state of Gujarat.
The state forest department has paid Rs 91.20 lakh as compensation to the fishermen for the damage to the entangled nets which had mistakenly caught the large fish, an official of the Wildlife Trust of India said on the sidelines of the 13th Convention on Migratory Species being organised here.
“From 2004 till now, the fishermen along Gujarat coast have rescued and released a total 781 whale sharks. The forest department has paid Rs 91.20 lakh in compensation to the fishermen for the damage sustained to their net, as they have to cut the net to release them,” said Sajan John, head of the Marine Conservation Project of the Wildlife Trust of India.
The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a non-governmental organization (NGO) working with Tata Chemicals and the Gujarat forest department for the conservation of sharks along the Gujarat coast. John spoke about the whale shark conservation project at an event being organized at the Mahatma Mandir.
“The Gujarat coast is one of the largest aggregation sites for whale sharks in the country. Our campaign has been to make fishermen aware so they do not bring them on the land and face penalty,” John said.
Whale sharks were used by the fishermen for its meat to be supplied to the poultry industry to make chicken feed or manure.