Fishing and trade of devil rays (Mobula spp.) in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh: Insights from fishers’ knowledge
Devil rays (Mobula spp.) are globally threatened cartilaginous fishes that have attracted global conservation concern owing to their high extinction risk and lack of protection in many countries. Limited resources and data on threatened marine species, including devil rays, impede conservation actions, particularly in developing countries, many of which have high biodiversity. Devil ray catch is a component of artisanal fisheries in Bangladesh, but data on their fisheries and trade are limited. To characterize devil ray fishing practices, fishers’ perception and trade, 230 fishers and traders were interviewed between 4 June 2018 and 22 June 2019, in four areas of south-east Bangladesh. Catch data were also opportunistically collected at landing sites. Six devil ray species were documented, caught in an array of gill nets, set-bag nets and longlines. All interviewed fishers reported life-long devil ray bycatch in some numbers, and also noted a decline in catch over the last decade. Bottom trawling, increased bycatch levels, increased demand for devil ray products and, in some cases, ecosystem changes were identified by fishers as threats to devil ray populations. Unregulated and undocumented trade and retained bycatch, especially by gill nets and set-bag nets, are fuelled by local consumption of devil ray meat and international trade in meat and gill rakers. Compliance with international trade control treaties for all Mobula spp. or the Bangladeshi law protecting Mobula mobular was low, with the majority of fishers (87%, n = 174) unaware of their existence. To manage devil ray fisheries, and prevent possible population declines, we propose a combination of legally enforced gear modifications, and catch and trade control through community-owned implementation strategies. Additionally, we propose the simultaneous implementation of inclusive, community-based awareness and stewardship projects in conjunction with a coast-wide ray monitoring programme. Finally, we emphasize that more research and action rooted in a sustainable fishery model is urgently needed to protect Bangladeshi devil ray populations.