Fishers’ protests against overfishing by big ships ignored; fishers to intensify agitation
The Central government has issued revised guidelines for deep sea fishing by big ships in the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—an area of the sea between 22 km and 370 km from the coast, beyond the territorial waters.
The guidelines permit deep sea fishing with letter of permission (LoP) from the Centre.
The guidelines were issued even as fisher communities in 10 coastal states are agitating against an expert committee report that recommended giving letter of permission for more big vessels in EEZ.
Invitation to joint ventures
The guidelines were issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and appeared on the ministry's website on November 28. The guidelines are for big vessels with a length 15 metre or more that can be owned or acquired by Indian entrepreneurs of the country. Joint ventures with up to 49 per cent foreign investments are allowed to apply for permission. The letter of permit will be valid for a period of five years.
The revised guidelines have further angered fishers organizations, already holding strong protests against the Central government-appointed expert committee report, which recommended letter of permission for more big ships. "For the past many years we have been highlighting how deep sea fishing by big ships in Indian waters is affecting the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of fishers who use traditional, motorised and mechanised boats to catch fish," says Vincent Jain, chief executive officer of the Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen (ADSGAF), Thoothoor, Tamil Nadu. It seems that the Centre has accepted the recommendations of the Meenakumari Committee report even when states such as Kerala have sent views against the report, he adds.
What expert panel recommended
The committee, headed by B Meenakumari, deputy director general of fisheries division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), submitted its report on August 20 this year. The committee was constituted after Prime Minster Narendra Modi's call for a "Blue Revolution" in July.
The eight-member committee was asked to review the Comprehensive Marine Fishing Policy 2004 and make recommendations for formulating a new fishing policy for the country. The committee had recommended that marine resources in the territorial sea (up to 22 km from the coast) have already been exploited indiscriminately and hence fishing in this region should be banned. Further, the committee recommended that parts of the sea, between 200 and 500 metre depth, should be reserved as a buffer zone. This, according to the committee, will replenish the marine resources in the territorial waters as well as in the deep sea on the either side of the proposed buffer zone.
Besides these two recommendations, the expert committee also recommended that fishing by big vessels should be encouraged in the EEZ. The panel estimated the resource potential of the EEZ at 4.41 million tonnes and suggested its optimal utilisation. To achieve optimum utilisation of the resources from this area, the panel recommended 1,178 deep-sea fishing vessels be deployed. This includes the existing 908 and additional 270 vessels. The panel also suggested that joint ventures with foreign companies and transfer of technology be taken up for exploiting the waters with more than 500 m depth.
Fishers pushed out from coast, sea
Fishers’ organisations point out that the recommendations are detrimental to the interests of hundreds of thousands of fishers in the coastal states. "The sea and the coast are being removed from the traditional fishing community slowly,” points out T Peter of Kerala Swatantre Matsya Thozhilali Federation, a trade union of small-scale artisanal fishers.
The coastal areas are being invaded by the tourism industry, real estate and other development sectors, displacing the traditional fishing communities. Now, fishers are being removed from territorial waters and EEZ." The stance of the successive governments at the Centre is the same regarding fishing by big foreign ships. Indiscriminate fishing by big ships not only displaces traditional communities but destroys marine resources and ecology, he adds.
The fisher organisations point out that the report contradicts the recommendations of P Murari Committee that opposed issuance of further licences to foreign fishing vessels. The Murari Committee had recommended that the existing licences of foreign fishing vessels should not be renewed. According to Charles George, president of Kerala's Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi (forum of fisher's unions), the committee concealed the fact that out of 908 big vessels fishing in the sea, only about 70 have letter of permission from the Central government. All others are engaged in illegal fishing, he adds. Further, these big vessels are permitted to export their catch from the sea itself without making a landing on the shore.
Fishers organisations in Tamil Nadu are angered by the panel's observation that the traditional fishing communities do not have technical know-how in fishing in waters beyond the depth of 500 metre. "The report recommends bringing in trainers by paying them to build up the capacity of the Indian fisher communities. This is a gross under-estimation of the deep sea fishing capacity of the traditional fishermen in places such as Thoothoor who venture up to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in boats beyond a depth of 500 metre and stay in the sea for days at a stretch. They have been engaged in deep sea fishing for generations," says Jain. (Read ‘Shark in a soup’)
Fishers not consulted
The committee consists of only scientists and officials and does not have any representative from the fisher communities. "The recommendations were shaped without consulting us," points out George.
The fishers organisations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and other states had organised a boat rally last month, starting from Mangalore in Karnataka and ending at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, urging to protect India' marine resources from being plundered by big joint venture vessels. "We're going to intensify our agitations in the coming days," says Peter.
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