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Developing nations in tropical regions harbour rich biological resources on which humans depend for food, income and employment, yet data to aid their management is often lacking. In West Africa, the diversity and fisheries of elasmobranchs are poorly documented, despite them being known to be economically important and vulnerable to overexploitation. Rapid qualitative surveys of fish processing and landing sites in The Gambia from 2010-2018 revealed valuable new data on species composition, biology, relative abundance, fisheries and utilisation by humans. Diversity and abundance was dominated by batoids, with a major component comprising a large guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) that was apparently targeted, and a small whipray (Fontitrygon margaritella). Nearly all taxa recorded are classified by the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered (angel sharks Squatina spp.), Endangered, Data Deficient, or Not Evaluated; several were endemic, of exceptional evolutionary distinctness, cryptic, possibly undescribed, and rare (including stingray Hypanus rudis not apparently recorded since description in 1870). Significant threats to biodiversity, coastal livelihoods and possibly food security are identified based on the apparent importance of elasmobranch fisheries and processing; the known inability of key taxa to withstand intensive fisheries; ‘fishing down the food web’ by intensive utilisation of F. margaritella; and the absence or rarity of previously common elasmobranch species that may be severely depleted in the region. This study provides data that may act as a starting point to aid sustainability accreditation of local fin-fisheries, and demonstrates the value of inexpensive and low-resolution data collection in developing countries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1431–1450
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number6
Early online date11 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes
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