The popular edible fish Kelawalla (Yellow-fin Tuna) is a “near threatened” species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The world’s commercially targeted fish are in decline mainly because of unsustainable fishing practices. The IUCN’s recent Red List shows that five of the eight tuna species are either threatened or near threatened because of over-fishing.
“The latest Red List update underlines concerns expressed when Indian Ocean coastal countries met in Colombo early this year,” said Dr. Hiran Jayewardene, chairman of the National Aquatic Resources Agency (NARA). He was speaking at the 17th session of the Sri Lanka Association for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (SAFAR).
Participants at the Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Co-operation (IOMAC) conference, held in Colombo in March, stressed the need to restrict the unsustainable fishing practices of distant water fishing nations, such as Japan, Taiwan, and members of the European Union. To maximise catches, these countries use large purse-seine nets that scoop up all available big and small fish in targeted areas, and also a Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) that monitors fish stocks in different parts of the ocean.
Because most of the economically valuable species are threatened, a quota system has been introduced to enforce sustainable fishing in many regions. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission has set limits on the fishing of the Indian Ocean tuna. However, the quota systems are not being observed. Fish experts warn that if sustainable practices are not enforced, the Indian Ocean tuna will rise to the top ranks of fish facing extinction.
“Temporarily shutting down tuna fisheries would only be a part of a much needed recovery programme,” said Jean-Christophe Vié, deputy drector, IUCN Global Species Programme. “To prevent illegal fishing, strong deterrents need to be implemented.”
Tuna accounts for more than 42 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total fish catch, and 49 per cent of the total marine fish catch – about 143,000 tons.
The Yellow-fin Tuna (Kelawalla), the Skipjack (balaya), and the Big-eye Tuna, once found in abundance, are dwindling in numbers.