Photo of a rhino ray (widenose guitarfish) by Trisha Gupta.

By Trisha Gupta, E. Milner-Gulland, Andrew Dias, and Divya Karnad.

Read the full paper here.

Rhino rays are a group of fish closely related to sharks. They are threatened with extinction, mostly due to overfishing, but are very poorly studied and managed in countries like India, where people fish them the most. In such contexts, the knowledge of local fishing communities can be a valuable source of information to better understand a threatened species. Local knowledge can also shed some light on how these species exist with a local culture, and how people perceive them, which is important to develop conservation plans.

Our study documented local knowledge and attitudes of fishers towards rhino rays in Goa, on the west coast of India. Our goal was to understand the threats these species face and how people can conserve them. We travelled across the coastline of Goa and interviewed members of fishing communities in 20 different villages and harbours in 2021. We found out that people caught rhino rays accidentally as ‘bycatch’ across all types of fishing gear. These species were considered to have low economic values, and were mostly used for local consumption, or even discarded if they were small-sized.

One alarming finding that came out in the interviews was the disappearance of species like sawfish and wedgefish from this region over the past two decades. However, we also found that fishers appeared to have positive attitudes towards rhino rays and may be willing to participate in their conservation, which was encouraging. This suggests that live release measures, where live rhino rays are released from fishing gear back into the water, might be effective – especially given that these species may have a high survival rate after capture. Local knowledge also helped us identify important habitats for rhino rays, such as river mouths along the coast of Goa, that need to be prioritised for conservation. Further research on these aspects can help design appropriate interventions for rhino rays in this region.