Kochi, Aug 13 (PTI): A research project to assess the status of 27 species of marine mammals and five species of sea turtles in Indian waters has been launched by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).
With a budget of Rs 5.66 crore, the project is funded by the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) for three years, the CMFRI said in a statement here on Thursday..
The study aims to address the information gap on the status of stocks of marine mammals as well as bycatch of sea turtles, the statement said.
The research assumes significance in the context of emerging seafood trade-related challenges faced by the country.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA, had issued import provisions of Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) stating that seafood exporting countries should not allow intentional killing of marine mammals in commercial fisheries.
For exporting fish and fish products, the US had given a five-year exemption period starting January 1, 2017, to nations for developing regulatory programs by assessing marine mammal stocks, estimating bycatch, calculating bycatch limits, and reducing total bycatch.
Likewise, the US Public Law provides that shrimp products should not be imported unless the US certifies that the exporting nation harvests shrimp without adversely affecting sea turtles.
Following this, the US banned import of shrimp from India from May 2018.
Deputy Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Dr JK Jena inaugurated a webinar during the launch of the project on Wednesday.
According to him, the research project would bolster the preparedness of the country in meeting the challenge faced by the seafood export industry, and enhance the indigenous capacity to address the emerging conservation concerns of marine mammals and sea turtles.
Speaking on the occasion, chairman of MPEDA K S Srinivas said the country is looking forward to this project, which is being implemented with the technical support of NOAA, with a hope that it would help solve the issues related to seafood export of the country.
Marine acoustic research expert, University of Washington, Dr Kate Stafford, and Director, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) of USA, Dr Mridula Srinivasan shared their experiences in the use of advanced acoustic and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based technologies in the marine mammal stock assessment in US waters.
They lauded the initiative and offered cutting-edge collaborative research support.
CMFRI Director Dr A Gopalakrishnan recalled the achievements of scientists of the institute in the field of research on marine mammals and sea turtles.
'Marine mammals and sea turtles play a key role in maintaining marine ecosystems. Considering the need for conservation, the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 listed the species of marine mammals and sea turtles under Schedule I,' he said.
However, interaction on fisheries and other human interventions have negative effects on the population of the megafauna, Gopalakrishnan said.
'This is evident from frequent reports on bycatch and stranding of these animals along the coastline of India.
While government and non-government organisations have undertaken studies on distribution, biological and ecological characteristics, the information on status of stocks of marine mammals as well as bycatch of sea turtles are not available, he added. PTI TGB NVG NVG