Manta Rays and Whale Sharks Protected Under New Mozambique Fisheries Law
The Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) has announced a major legislative victory for ocean life in Mozambique as a new commercial fishing law is introduced, creating protections for a number of endangered species including whale sharks, manta rays and mobula.
The new legislation, effective from 8 January 2021, also includes a raft of new environmental regulations such as a ban on the harvesting of live coral; mandatory turtle-excluder devices on industrial fishing nets; and a prohibition on destructive fishing practices near coral, seagrass and mangrove habitats. While it is still permissible to fish some species of shark, the horrific practise of shark finning – cutting fins from living animals and casting them back into the sea – is forbidden; the sharks must be landed whole and with their fins still attached.
'This law will make it far easier for our fishing communities to manage their impact by empowering them to create no-take zones and enforce rules limiting the use of gear that is destructive to important coral reef and mangrove habitats,' said MMF Conservation Project Manager, Emerson Neves. 'This will help us achieve our goal of sustainable fishing for generations to come, so we can both conserve our incredible fish life and allow people to have a stable livelihood and food source.'
The introduction of the new regulations follows 20 years of research and lobbying efforts by conservation groups, including the MMF, whose work in Mozambique led to the discovery that manta rays are divided into two distinct species. 'The largest identified populations of both reef and giant manta rays in Africa have been identified off the southern Mozambican coastline, making it a critical region for their conservation in the Western Indian Ocean,' said MMF Co-founder and Principal Scientist, Dr Andrea Marshall, whose research led to the reclassification of manta into separate species.
Alongside their manta ray studies, the MMF's groundbreaking satellite-tagging research has also demonstrated the importance of Mozambique as a whale shark habitat, and how increasing human pressures – such as accidental catch in gillnets – has halved their global population since the 1980s.
'The Mozambican coast is an internationally important habitat for whale sharks, the world's largest fish,' said Dr Simon Pierce, MMF Co-founder and Principal Scientist. 'Protection in Mozambican waters provides a safeguard for the species locally, where whale sharks are the basis for sustainable marine ecotourism, but will also help these gentle giants to recover in the broader Indian Ocean. The Mozambique government has taken a commendable step for the worldwide conservation of this endangered species.'
Data captured by the MMF shows dramatic declines in the sightings of marine megafauna such as mantas, mobulas and whale sharks. A 2013 study reported a decline in whale shark and reef manta ray sightings of 79 per cent and 88 per cent, respectively, rising to a staggering 90 per cent reduction in sightings of giant mantas, reef mantas, and shortfin devil rays in the south of the country by 2017. 'Evidence of these stark declines, which have been attributed in large part to localized fishing pressure, is a testament to the urgency of these protections which go into effect today,' said Dr Marshall.
Research by the MMF into the importance of manta rays and other megafauna to the Mozambican tourism industry has provided the government with an economic incentive for their protection. A 2016 study lead-authored by senior MMF scientist Dr Stephanie Venables found that manta ray tourism in the Inhambane province had a direct economic impact of US $34million per year, with a projected yearly loss of $16-$25million if Mozambique's mantas were to disappear.
In addition to the financial benefits of megafauna tourism to local economies, healthy populations of giant species are crucial for the health of the world's oceans, and yet manta rays and whale sharks are classified on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as vulnerable or endangered – with worldwide populations on the decline. Local conservation measures such as the newly implemented Mozambican regulations are vital for the global preservation of these species.
While the new legislation is being hailed as a significant breakthrough, the MMF is currently working with other NGOs to submit a list of important species that have not been included. 'This new protection is a huge step in the right direction and we’re thrilled that Mozambique is recognizing the importance of some of the species we study, but there are other rare and endangered species in Mozambique that still lack protection,' said MMF Manta Research Manager, Anna Flam. 'We’re hoping to use the positive momentum from this new law, combined with our research, to lobby Mozambique to add protection for hammerhead sharks, smalleye stingrays, leopard sharks, and wedgefish, among other vulnerable species.'