Good tidings

Published: Monday 30 September 1996

the Union cabinet has decided to impose a ban on deep sea fishing ( dsf ) operations. The decision was followed by a meeting of the cabinet committee on economic affairs ( ccea ) on September 4, which accepted most of the recommendations of the Murari committee report that had reviewed the dsf issue in India's exclusive economic zone. This decision could mean the cancellation of all licences granted for dsf operations under joint venture, lease and charter policies.

However, till the time of going to press, no ban order had been officially issued, as the law ministry has to study how the existing licencees can be compensated. The ban would involve 16 joint venture companies with a fleet of 61 dsf vessels (18 of them in operation) and 57 vessels on lease (10 of them in operation). According to sources, the law ministry has found that most of the licences could be cancelled without much complication. But some of them -- especially vessels in active operation -- would require gradual winding up and considerable amounts as compensation.

The P Murari committee -- set up after widespread protests against the dsf policy by the traditional fisherfolk and small mechanised boat operators -- had recommended cancellation of all licences issued to dsf vessels (20 m plus in length). The committee has also proposed a relaxation to this rule for indigenous vessels exceeding 20 m for a three-year period. On August 13, minister of state for food processing industries ( m o fpi ), Dilip Kumar Dey, had assured the fisherfolk leader Thomas Kocherry that no new licences would be issued and the existing licences may not be renewed. Later, the ministry referred the matter to the ccea , giving September 12 as the deadline for a decision.

In the September 4 meeting, the ccea accepted the m o fpi note, stressing the "need to evolve a proper policy to nurture deep sea fishing without jeopardising the interests of traditional fisherfolk". The latter had claimed that:

The super-efficient dsf vessels encroached upon their fishing fields, and no existing mechanism can check it.

Small boats (less than 20 m in length) already fish quite successfully up to a depth zone of 200 m depth.

Though the cabinet decision has not yet been officially announced, it is being seen as a victory for the traditional fisherfolk. Till September 8, the fisherfolk's organisations had not been informed by the government of the ban. And some sources were keeping their fingers crossed till September 12, fearing a lobbying for reversal of the ban by joint venture groups.

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