<i>Shark hunters defy ban</i>
Sharks are being hunted indiscriminately in the south-western coast of the country threatening marine eco system even though catching sharks is banned under the Wildlife Act.
Catching sharks is now a lucrative business for a large number of fishermen as shark skin, fin, teeth, bones, stomach is sold at high prices abroad particularly in the Middle East and European countries.
Kuakata, Sonar Char, Ruper Char, Fatrar Char, Char Gongmoti in Patuakhali and Asar Char, Patharghata areas of Barguna are the places where sharks are captured and processed in broad day light. At least 50 shark processing centres sprung up in these areas.
Shark fin is used for making soup and considered a delicacy. The skin is used for making fashionable leather goods like wallets, women's bags, ornaments boxes and shoes. Shark skins are sold at Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per kg in the Middle East and European countries. Shark teeth and bones are used for making various ornaments.
Shark fat is used for making medicines and sold at over Tk 3,000 a kg. Their internal organs are used as fish and poultry feed, fishermen of Kuakata said.
Sources say traders from Chittagong go to Barguna and Patuakhali to encourage fishermen catch sharks since these areas are considered shark territory. At least 2,000 fishermen of these areas are involved in netting and processing sharks.
A large part of the shark catch is allegedly smuggled to Myanmar and Bangkok with the help of traders from Chittagong as there is little monitoring of fishermen's catch or their customers, sources said.
At least 250 trawlers are engaged in netting sharks. The peak season is between December and April as shark packs throng the shallow waters there, marine resources experts and fishermen said.
Even smaller sharks are netted as fishermen use a special net locally known as "Jatka jal" to catch them.
More and more fishermen are attracted to shark netting as it brings more profit, Abdus Salam Howlader, president of fishing trawlers owners association, said.
Pijush Kanti Hori, former chairman of geology department of Patuakhali Government College, said indiscriminate shark netting will seriously destabilise the marine eco system.
"Sharks live on a number of fast growing varieties of small fish. They check over-population and maintain balance," he added.
They are predators and part of the food chain and if their numbers reduce other fish will rise in number and the marine eco-system will lose its balance. Moreover, as a natural phenomenon sharks will move away from Bangladesh waters if this menace continues, he said adding that it would also complicate matters.
The Coastguards and officials of East Wing of Sundarbans Forest Division recovered eight dead sharks of rare species on February 7 from four trawlers at Dublarchar in the Sundarbans.
Each of the sharks is about eight feet long and weighs over 40 kg, said Officer-in-charge of Dublarchar Forest Station Tajul Islam who had joined the recovery operations.
Tajul said catching shark is forbidden under the Wildlife Act. The sharks were netted in the Bay of Bengal and concealed under the decks of trawlers.
Local law enforcers including forest officials are yet to conduct any drive against shark catchers.