The Rediscovery of a Ray
The tentacled butterfly ray (Gymnura tentaculata) was thought to be extinct. Even though researchers had been looking for these beautiful rays for years, they had not been seen in the coastal waters off India since the mid-seventies and last recordings are from 35 years ago in Pakistan. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature had therefore flagged the species as Possibly Extinct.
You can imagine that it was somewhat of a surprise when Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour (FFN winner 2021) and his team discovered some tentacle butterfly rays as fishing bycatch during a monitoring programme in Iranian waters. Not only did they rediscover the presumed extinct species, they actually found that it comprises an astounding 15% of all ray bycatch from trawl fisheries. As the ray species has not been recorded elsewhere, the Persian Gulf appears to be the species’ last stronghold.
With these discoveries, Mohsen and his team at the Qeshm Environmental Conservation Institue (QECI) show how important monitoring landings is, in other words involving fishermen, wholesalers, retailers and others at ports, harbours, and markets — any place where fish are landed. There lies a wealth of knowledge with these fishermen, not only about the current status of marine life but also about changes over time. For example, although monitoring and surveying fisheries have shown the tentacle butterfly ray still exists, they also suggest that its populations have been in decline over the past 30 years.
While fishermen are often get the short end of the stick when it comes to the unsustainable fish consumption, Mohsen shows they are also one of the keys to conserve threatened marine species. Mohsen aims to train fishermen to safely return bycaught rays to the ocean, thereby minimising bycatch mortality in rays and protecting fishermen from injuries at the same time. Mohsen is also working on a bycatch device, to prevent the bycatch of rays as well as sharks in the long run.