Fishermen along India's western coast are threatening to undo conservation efforts and kill hundreds of endangered whale sharks unless the government gives fuel subsidies promised to them three years ago.
AHMEDABAD, India -- Fishermen along India's western coast are threatening to undo conservation efforts and kill hundreds of endangered whale sharks unless the government gives fuel subsidies promised to them three years ago.
About 15,000 fishermen living by the Arabian Sea in the western state of Gujarat say they need help to run their boats and will be forced to hunt the massive yet docile fish and sell its parts for money.
"We will kill whale sharks if we do not get financial help to run our motor-boats," said Kamlesh Sodwa of the Veraval Fishermen Association.
The whale shark is the largest fish species and is known as the gentle giant of the sea, feeding mainly on plankton.
But the sharks are a threatened species and about one thousand were slaughtered by Gujarat's fishermen between 1990 and 2001, who hunted them for their oil, fins and meat, which fetched high prices on the international market.
Since 2001, campaigning by wildlife groups and religious leaders has helped curtail the hunting of the whale sharks -- 1,200 of which migrate across the Indian Ocean to the Gujarat coast from East Africa for breeding every year.
"Five years ago, Gujarat's fishermen had pledged never to kill the gentle ocean giant and have been ripping their nets to release the big fish," said Aniruddha Mukherjee, director of the Wildlife Trust of India.
As a result, there have been no recorded killings of whale sharks on Gujarat's coast since 2002, he added.
But the fishermen now say they are poor and need the government to fulfil a 2004 promise to provide fuel subsidies.
"A 45-foot (14 metres) whale shark had entered into my nets. I wanted to kill the creature to buy food for my children but my wife forced me to release it," said fisherman Nandi Kelva.
"The government does not care for us, so why should we care for the fish?"
State government officials said they still plan to give fuel subsidies but did not have a time-frame. They said they would not, however, respond to threats of killing the endangered fish.
"There is a ban on killing the whale shark," state forestry official P.N. Roychoudhary said. "If the fishermen find killing as a way for survival, then they are making a mistake."