Project news

The elusive guitarfish of Goa

By Trisha Gupta, 3rd December 2023

Where do young guitarfish live? This is one of the main questions our project hopes to answer about the Critically Endangered widenose guitarfish (Glaucostegus obtusus) in Goa, India.

With its sandy beaches, tropical climate and laid-back culture, Goa is a famous tourist destination on the west coast of India. But unknown to most people, Goan waters may also form important habitats for Critically Endangered guitarfish. Our previous research in the area found species like the widenose guitarfish and sharpnose guitarfish (G. granulatus) inhabiting the nearshore waters of Goa, and potentially using them as nursery grounds. We interviewed fishers along the coastline and documented their local knowledge about guitarfish in this region. This gave us much-needed insights into a range of subjects such as where guitarfish were found, how often they were caught in fisheries, what were they used for, and what local communities felt about their conservation. Fishers also helped us identify specific sites and seasons where guitarfish seem to occur the most in nearshore waters, and this formed the basis of our current study.

The nearshore habitats of Goa, where juvenile guitarfish can be found. Photo © Trisha Gupta

In this project, we’re aiming to understand how juvenile guitarfish use nearshore shallow habitats in South Goa, and how they interact with fisheries and tourism that are operating in these waters. We’re using a mixed-methods approach to answer our questions – with a combination of walking transects, baited remote underwater vessels (BRUVs), stakeholder interviews, catch monitoring and post-capture survival evaluations. We spent a few months trialling and refining these different methods, and are now working on collecting the data.

Widenose guitarfish have been recently listed under Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act, which means that they are not allowed to be fished or traded. But it is uncertain how this regulation will be implemented on the ground, given that guitarfish are most often caught as bycatch. Most fishing centres in India also have limited capacity for monitoring and enforcement to implement this policy. The findings of our project can provide practical solutions to conserve guitarfish on-ground and mitigate their catch in fisheries, with local communities as partners.

Widenose guitarfish (Glaucostegus obtusus) caught in artisanal fishing nets. Photo © Trisha Gupta

We have a wonderful interdisciplinary team working on this project, and look forward to having some results to share soon!

Project See project and more news