If you relish seafood, it’s time to know your fish

Did you know that shark(mori) and Indian salmon(raus) populations off the west coast are dwindling, or that unaccounted amounts of marine species get discarded as bycatch annually? Given the increasing demand for seafood and indiscriminate fishing practices used, much of the fish we relish today could soon be on the brink of extinction.Concerned about the impact overfishing could have on marine ecosystems, a team of young marine researchers has set out on a mission to tackle the issue from the top, down; beginning with the consumer.

‘Know Your Fish’ aims to convince hotel owners to adapt to an ocean-friendly menu. An initiative by Mayuresh Gangal, Pooja Rathod and Chetana Purushottam, it is based on a collation of published information on the breeding seasons of sought-after fish along the west coast of India, and breeding seasons of bycatch species, they have built a calendar for each of these species (refer to graphic).

Available on knowyourfish.org.in, it indicates the best months to consume a species and periods when to be avoided.

Benefits of following the almanac are two-pronged, Gangal says. One, it helps spare fish during breeding season. Two, it helps curb collateral damage.For instance, after collating scientific literature on kingfish breeding off the west coast, including Goa, the trio found that kingfish breed from May to November and that a major part of the process occurs between October and November. Hence, they recommend not consuming the fish in these months.

The team also observed that seer fish (surmai) catches, involved a lot of unintentional bycatch of sharks, too. After ascertaining that most shark species on the west coast breed from March through May, the researchers modified their recommendation for seer fish to accommodate the shark breeding season, to cause minimum collateral damage. The trio is taking such information to restaurateurs, urging them to help consumers make informed choices. “So far, four eateries each in Goa and Mumbai have committed to present the Know Your Fish calendar to their customers,” Gangal says. While Goa’s fisheries department claims no seafood species, barring windowpane oysters, are threatened, it is willing to consider collaborating with such initiatives.

“So far, we implement a two month-long ban on fishing during the monsoon as the upwelling and nutrient content of the waters in this period is conducive to fish breeding,” says fisheries director Shamila Monteiro. The department also prohibits the use of nets that have a mesh size of over 20mm.

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