Shark Week 2020

First Signs of Hope for Critically Endangered Wedgefish and Giant Guitarfish in Indonesia

By Een Irawan Putra, Dwi Yuwandana & Benaya Simeon | Aug 13, 2020

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A wedgefish in its inshore habitat. Photo credit: ©Matthew D Potenski/The Pew Charitable Trusts

[Note: this is the fifth in a series of commentaries by researchers with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) during Shark Week documenting challenges and successes in shark and ray conservation today.]

edgefish and giant guitarfish comprise a group of highly threatened shark-like rays. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessed them as Critically Endangered in 2019 due to recent rapid declines, primarily caused by overfishing. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists them on their Appendix II, which means international trade should be managed for sustainability.

Wedgefish and giant guitarfish are globally distributed from Eastern Africa to the Indo-Pacific, and Indonesia is a hotspot for these species. In particular, the Java Sea is important habitat for wedgefish and giant guitarfish due to the ideal muddy substrate that they typically live in.

Unfortunately, fishing pressure in the Java Sea is high, and currently threatens this wedgefish and giant guitarfish hotspot. Indonesia is the world’s largest shark and ray fishing country, and also the 3rd largest exporting country for shark and ray commodities, including wedgefish and giant guitarfish.

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Rekam Nusantara Foundation signs an MoU with Diponegoro University to conduct research on wedgefish and giant guitarfish on North Coast Java. From left: Vice Dean Irwani, M. Phim; Chief Department of Capture Fisheries, Prof. Aristi Dian; Vice Dean Dr. Suradi; University Dean, Prof. Tri Winarni; Een Rawan Putra; Dwi Putra, IPB University; Irfan Yulianto, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society). Photo credit: ©WCS Indonesia

Local people utilize all body parts — including fins, meat, skin, cartilage, and even intestines. Wedgefish and giant guitarfish fins hold particular value in the international fin trade, and are known as ‘king of shark fin’ in Hong Kong. Many others prize the meat for smoked fish.

Indonesia is the world’s largest shark and ray fishing country, and also the 3rd largest exporting country for shark and ray commodities, including wedgefish and giant guitarfish.

Recognizing the threats faced by wedgefish and giant guitarfsih in the Java Sea, The Rekam Nusantara Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program initiated a collaboration with local stakeholders — the Central Java Marine and Fisheries Agency, Diponegoro University, and IPB University. This initiation aims to understand the condition of wedgefish and giant guitarfish in Java Sea to inform fisheries management.

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As a first step, we monitored wedgefish and giant guitarfish landings at four main fishing ports in Northern Coast Java. The data included fishery and biological information, in order to understand which species were being caught, and which fishery characteristics posed the greatest risk.

With support from the provincial government, we believe these comprehensive research results can be turned into effective conservation measures.

We recorded four species of wedgefish and two species of giant guitarfish on the North Coast of Java between April 2019 and March 2020. That includes 5,701 individuals of wedgefish and 273 individuals of giant guitarfish, including the species Rhynchobatus australiae, Rhynchobatus springeri, Rhynchobatus laevis dan Rhina ancylostoma, Glaucostegus typus, and Glaucostegus thouin. It showed there is a possibility that population density and species distribution of wedgefish in Indonesia is higher than giant guitarfish.

Learn more about the threat to Indonesia’s wedgefish and giant guitarfish in this video. Produced by the REKAM Nusantara Foundation, with the support of the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and the Shark Conservation Fund.

This monitoring of landings represents a first step towards improved management for these species. We have made significant inputs to government policy processes for CITES implementation, and are now working with local stakeholders to develop management measures. The Rekam Nusantara Foundation, the Central Java Government, and Diponegoro University have established an official collaboration with a Memorandum of Understanding.

With support from the provincial government, we believe these comprehensive research results can be turned into effective conservation measures. While the high catches of these critically endangered species are worrying, they also indicate healthy and abundant populations in the Java Sea. This new collaboration gives us hope for the conservation of wedgefish and giant guitarfish in the Java Sea and Indonesia.

Een Irawan Putra is Executive Director for the REKAM Nusantara Foundation; Dwi Yuwandana is a researcher at the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences, IPB University, and REKAM Nusantara Foundation; Benaya Simeon is Sharks and Rays Senior Officer with the Indonesia Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

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Read the other pieces in this WCS series for Shark Week here:

Making Our Marine Environment Safe for Future Shark Weeks

Ground Realities of Shark Fisheries in India

Ocean Guardians Pave the Way to Save Threatened Sharks and Rays in Bangladesh

The Informal Blue Economy: East Africa’s Silent Shark Killer

Shark Quest: Are the World’s Most Endangered Rays Living in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea?

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Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest

Wildlife Conservation Society

Written by

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest

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