Kochi institute launches project to assess status of marine mammals, turtles

Sea turtle
Sea turtle. Representative image: Shutterstock
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Kochi: The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has launched a research project to assess the status of 27 species of marine mammals and five species of sea turtles in Indian waters. With an overall budget of Rs. 5.66 crores, the project is funded by the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) for a period three years. The study aims to address the crucial information gap on status of stocks of marine mammals as well as bycatch of sea turtle.

This research assumes significance in the context of emerging seafood trade related challenges faced by the country. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the USA had issued import provisions of Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), stating that seafood exporting countries should not allow intentional killing of marine mammals in commercial fisheries. For exporting fish and fish products, the US has given a five-year exemption period starting January 1, 2017 to nations for developing regulatory programs by assessing marine mammal stocks, estimating by-catch, calculating bycatch limits, and reducing total by-catch. Likewise, US Public Law provides that shrimp products should not be imported unless the US certifies that the exporting nation harvests shrimp without adversely affecting sea turtles. Following this, the US has banned import of wild caught shrimp from India from May 2018.

Dr JK Jena, Deputy Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) inaugurated a webinar during the launch of the project. According to him, this research project would bolster the preparedness of the country in meeting the challenge faced by the seafood export industry, and enhance the indigenous capacity to address the emerging conservation concerns of marine mammals and sea turtles.

Speaking on the occasion, K.S. Srinivas, IAS, Chairman, MPEDA said that country is looking forward to this project, which is being implemented with the technical support of NOAA, with a hope that it would help solve the issues related to seafood export of the country. Dr. Kate Stafford, marine acoustic research expert, University of Washington and Dr. Mridula Srinivasan, Director, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS (NOAA Fisheries)) of USA shared their pioneering experiences in the use of advanced acoustic and Artificial Intelligence (AI) based technologies in the marine mammal stock assessment in US waters. They lauded the initiative and offered cutting edge collaborative research support.

Dr A Gopalakrishnan, Director of CMFRI recalled the significant achievements made by scientists of the institute in the field of marine mammals and sea turtles research. “Marine mammals and sea turtles play key roles in maintaining marine ecosystems. Considering the need for conservation, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 listed all the species of marine mammals and sea turtles under Schedule I. However, fisheries interaction and other human interventions have negative effects on the population of these megafauna. This is evident from frequent reports on bycatch and stranding of these animals along the coastline of India. While government and non-government organisations have undertaken studies on distribution, biological and ecological characteristics, the information on status of stocks of marine mammals as well as bycatch of sea turtle are not available”, he said.

Dr P. Pravin, Assistant Director General of ICAR, Dr L. Ramalingam, Director General of Fishery Survey of India (FSI), Dr. Latha, Group Head, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Alex Ninan of Seafood Exporters Association of India, Dr. E. Vivekanandan Dr. Leela Edwin, Dr. R. Jeyabaskaran, principal investigator of this project and Dr J Jayasankar spoke during the webinar.

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