Shakil's eyes light up as he remembers rescuing an endangered green turtle in early January 2023. "We had set up a fishing net and were anxiously waiting for the catch," said the fisher that lives in the coastal village of Ibrahim Hyderi, Karachi. "We suddenly felt something moving and pulling the net away from the boat. It was a huge green turtle struggling to escape. We safely released this gentle giant, witnessing it flip back into the waters."
In 2018, Shakil became one of around 700 people who have received training from WWF-Pakistan under its Sustainable Fisheries Entrepreneurship Project, which has been operating in Ibrahim Hyderi and nearby village of Rehri Goth. The aims of the project, which is supported by the Engro Foundation, include reducing bycatch and creating additional livelihood opportunities to make fishing on Pakistan's coast more sustainable.
Before 2012, about 28,000 turtles and 12,000 dolphins would be caught every year in fishing gears-gillnets, seine nets and trawling that trap marine animals indiscriminately in Pakistan's waters, said Muhammad Moazzam Khan, WWF-Pakistan's technical adviser for marine fisheries.
Nearly all entangled dolphins would die due to suffocation. "UN regulations and agreements stipulate that drift gillnets should not be more than 2.5 kilometres long. Despite this, our fishers use nets that are four to six kilometers," noted Shoaib Kiani, Assistant Professor at the University of Karachi's Institute of Marine Science during an interview with Gwadar Pro, stressing that the regulations need to be upheld. "Fish populations in Pakistan's waters have fallen by 40 to 80 percent. Fishery reform is imperative, in which rescue and safe release programme is not enough." Prof Kiani describes longline fishing using a single fishing line, along which are hung as many as 4,000 baited hooks, and sub-surface gillnets as "suitable fishing practices", stating that entanglement of threatened and endangered species has been significantly reduced where the WWF-Pakistan measures have been adopted. "There is still a need to raise awareness among fishers, and for the government to regulate fishing practices."
Other new equipment can reduce bycatch at the source. According to Prof Kiani, fishing gears equipped with LED lights has been distributed to fishermen in some pilot areas, which can reduce the impact on non-target species such as sea turtles under various light conditions.