Saturday, November 12, 2011

Manta Rays - the next Battlefield!

Heartbreaking - dead Mobula, pic by Shawn Heinrichs

Good on these people.
They are finally shining a light on a massacre that has been happening away from the public eye and in the shadow of Shark fishing, the indiscriminate slaughter of Mantas (yes that would be a plural!) and Mobulas.
The project is called Manta Ray of Hope and you can learn about it here.

Shame on me, actually.
The fact is, I've known about it for many years but have frankly totally underestimated its scope.
I've actually even eaten Manta Ray (and not liked it) back in the 80ies in La Paz, Baja where it was being served in all of the restaurants - and apparently still is. Back then, I've also witnessed alot of Mobulas being landed by the native Sperm Whale fishermen of Lamalera and more recently, I've discovered it in a Filipino recipe for a faux Shark dish, and I've even posted disheartening Elasmobranch fishing statistics from 2009 featuring a marked rise in Manta Ray and Mobula landings.
Totally mea culpa for not having caught on to it.

Now, it appears, things have escalated to new dimensions.
Watch this.

More here in an interview with Shawn.

So, apparently, Manta gill rakers are the new fad in Chinese medicine.
I really know way too little about this to venture an educated opinion, apart from the fact that it behooves us all to do whatever we can to try and save these wonderful animals.
I have learned that Mantas only have a single offspring every several years and from that fact alone, it appears unequivocal that any commercial fishing for them is undoubtedly completely unsustainable and simply devastating - maybe even more so than that for Sharks!

Being my usual me, I still would like to raise a couple of points.
  • Big Kudos for this initiative!
    BUT, is this more than a mere media-based awareness campaign, i.e. are there real people on the ground pursuing real, tangible pro-Manta conservation measures - and how successful has that been so far?
    How can we help?

  • Is the gill raker trade really driving the fishing, or is it merely a by-product of it?
    I'm asking this because of the shocking population explosion in the lesser developed countries where millions, if not billions of small subsistence fishermen are wiping out the marine resources through veritable protein mining all the way down through the trophic levels and laterally, by consuming what were previously considered to be "junk fish", like Sharks (and here). The answer to this question will likely determine the best way to proceed, see below.

  • This is most certainly a supply limited fishery.
    Like in the Elephant ivory trade (and that for Shark fins!) where the Asian demand will always be high enough to justify poaching the last Elephant, the demand for those damn gill rakers will always be high enough to wipe out the last Manta. Yes the demand for gill rakers may be a recent, and maybe reversible fad - but let me warn against only trying to re-educate the consumer via a media campaign.
    Like I never cease to repeat, supply limited fisheries need to be tackled where the fishing takes place, i.e. through local fishing bans, MPAs and Sanctuaries.

  • One suggestion.
    What about expanding the current Shark sanctuaries to include the protection of Mantas and Mobulas. As far as I know, none of those countries has any active Manta Ray fishery so it should be relatively uncontroversial? Anybody talking to the unequaled team at Pew?
OK, enough wisdom, or whatever.
This is really a great undertaking and timely wake up call, and I totally support it and will do whatever I can to be of assistance.
Seriously, anytime - just say the world.
Again: Kudos!

And because they are so lovely, here's another video.
It depicts Mantas being cleaned by the beautiful endemic Mexican Clarion Angelfish. Hat tip: DNS.


Mary O said...

Thanks for the post, Mike! The final report will be out very soon. Had to get this together as a starting point, and next onto implementation of the recommendations.

Don't worry! This is not a media-only consumer awareness campaign! Trade restrictions, international and range state protections are needed asap. And yes, including manta and mobula ray protection in shark sanctuaries and shark fin trade legislation is part of the plan. This has already been done in the Raja Ampat sanctuary and the Guam shark fin bill.

One international proposal that's coming up for review later this month is Ecuador's proposal to list Manta birostris on Appendices I and II of the CMS Convention. Not a binding treaty, but still significant considering there are 0 international measures protecting manta and mobula rays now.

Thanks again for the post. We'll send over the report as soon as it's final.

DaShark said...


I always worry!

But granted, with you on board, I shud have known better - but you know me, I just HAD to ask! :)