Crusader for the rights of over eight million Indian fisherfolk, Thomas Kochery , 57, made news headlines when he rejected the US $150,000 Fellowship of Pew foundation of Massachusetts, USA. He was recently elected unanimously the general coordinator of the World Forum of Fish workers and Fish-harvesters (WFF) -- launched to fight for the rights of over 100 million fisherfolk across the globe. He spoke to Anto Akkara on why he declined to accept the highest award in the US for marine conservation
On why he refused to accept the Pew Foundation fellowship:
Although the award is a recognition to our movement, the implications to the money associated with the award are different. The Philadelphia-based Pew Foundation is sponsored by the oil company, Sun, which has over the years contributed to marine pollution. A polluter giving an award for marine conservation is a contradiction. It is amoral to receive an award from a polluting company. This is blood money. What is important is to fight the forces that are putting to risk the lives of the fisherfolk. Nevertheless, I am grateful to Cliff Curtis of Greenpeace who nominated me for this award.
On what he knows about the Foundation:
The Pew Foundation was set up by Joseph N Pew, a former member of the Republican Party who despised government regulations. His oil refinery in Marcus Hook emitted noxious fumes and choked the people of Philadelphia in the 1940 and 50s.
The heirs of yesterday's polluters are becoming the allies of today's environmentalism. This is hypocrisy. The Foundation has now over us $4.8 billion of which 32 million dollars is spent on fellowships and donations annually. The concern of foundations like these is not environmental protection but environmentalism.
On the difference between environmental protection and environmentalism:
Some groups in the US and Canada are campaigning for moratorium on fishing. Moratorium on fishing punishes the victims and not the culprits. Factory trawlers, aquaculture and marine polluters are the real culprits. But it is the poor fisherfolk who suffer most under the moratorium. The Pew foundation supports the us president Clinton's proposal of a five per cent reduction in gasoline usage to reduce global warming. Clinton is asking India and China to abide by it. India has rejected the proposal because 99 per cent of the gasoline is used in the us. This is environmentalism.
Critics in the us - suspicious about the sources of the money - believe that these types of foundations are turning environmentalists into compromisers rather than principled campaigners. Every foundation talks about marine conservation, but no one wants to ban aquaculture. They do not realise the damage aquaculture has done in Asian countries. Policies such as these followed by the Pew foundation will only lead to further damage to the environment.
On how the WFF will help fisherfolk throughout the world:
This is a historic moment for the fisherfolk all over the world who have been victimised, displaced and dispossessed by globalisation. The very fact that the victims all over the world are coming together, is an achievement. To campaign against the multinational fishing corporations - armed with 25,000 factory trawlers are operating globally - we to need to respond to them globally. A positive step in this direction is the setting up of the wwf . Over 100 delegates from 32 countries attended the wff meet.
On the biggest problem which threatens the small scale fishing sector:
The 25,000 industrial fishing vessels worldwide have virtually depleted the marine resources. Besides over-fishing, these vessels dump the unwanted catch into the sea which contributes to the pollution. The result is that traditional fisherfolk community, despite their "eco-friendly" fishing methods, have little to catch.
Although we have succeeded in forcing a cut over 200 large factory trawlers from Indian waters, they have moved into other oceans where there is no such ban. Besides, they go poaching into the Exclusive Economic Zones (200 km) of many countries which do not have the means to curb such incursions. Unless we build up a strong global body and launch a worldwide campaign as we have done in India, the livelihood of the 100 million fisherfolk community will be in jeopardy.
On the living conditions of fisherfolk in South Asia and the rest of the world:
The problems of the fisher community remain the same all over. I have personally seen the situation in the us coastal areas. It's no better than India. You cannot divide the fisherfolk in the North and the South. All of them are victims of globalisation.
On how the green activists react to the depletion of marine resources:
There is strong movement worldwide to protect marine resources. Canada has put restrictions and has even banned deep sea fishing. The us Senate passed a bill in November last year to ban factory trawlers. Restrictions on fishing are now becoming commonplace because of the depletion of marine resources.
On the European Union decision to ban fish imports from India:
The issue is not of much concern to the fishing community. Indian fish exports could not have become unhygenic overnight. The economic interests of the European nations has led them to impose this embargo. Organisations such as the World Trade Organization (wto) is being used by nations to protect their economic needs.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.