How foreign vessels exploit India’s loopholes in fishing laws

Misuse Letter of Permit scheme, says Greenpeace report

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageForeign vessels are illegally fishing in Indian waters and not only causing huge losses to the country’s exchequer but also affecting the living of domestic fishermen, alleges Greenpeace. In its report ‘Licensed to Loot’ released on March 13, the non-profit, claims that several vessels of foreign origin are misusing the Letter of Permit (LoP) scheme of the Indian government to exploit lucrative Indian fish resources.

Under the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), only registered Indian fishing vessels can operate. But the LoP scheme of Department of Fisheries allows Indian fishing firms to buy technologically advanced foreign vessels. Under the scheme, the permission for a foreign vessel to operate in Indian EEZ is issued once it surrenders its registration in the country of origin and 10 per cent of its cost is paid by the Indian firm to the original firm. The vessel is supposed to employ 25 per cent Indian crew. Within three years, the Indian firm is supposed to completely own the vessel and the majority of the crew has to be Indian. Currently, 79 vessels are operational under the scheme in Indian EEZ.

Greenpeace alleges that many of these vessels continue to be registered in their country of origin and are controlled by the foreign firms. It found that at least eight vessels operating under the LoP scheme in Indian EEZ are also registered in Taiwan, their country of origin while two of them had Tuvalu National Registration. “The Indian firms are just the proxy owners that are paid commission for the huge profit made by the original firms that sell Indian fish in the international market,” says Areeba Hamid, Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace India.

Rules flouted

Dual registration is illegal as per the guidelines of LoP scheme. The Greenpeace report highlights that to circumvent this rule the original vessel owner registers their vessels to a shell company in a country where dual registration is allowed. This new registration is then surrendered to the Indian Mercantile Marine Department to obtain clearance to fish under the LoP scheme. “Since the LoP rules specify that proof must be furnished and at least 10 per cent of the value of the vessel be paid by the buyers to the sellers, the vessels are also allegedly undervalued,” the report adds.

The report also blames the authorities for ineffective monitoring, control and surveillance of such vessels. The LoP guidelines require all vessels registered under the scheme to send their positions on voyage reports to the nearest Coast Guard office regularly. They are also required to submit their reports to the Fisheries Survey of India. However, in both the cases it was found that the reports were not submitted.

The report also points out that to maximise timeout at sea and reduce the fuel cost these vessels off-load their catches to another ship at instead of landing them at the Indian port. The process called trans-shipment is illegal in some regions. However, in India there is no restriction on trans-shipment from LoP vessels.  “Since such vessels retain their original registration, they are essentially Taiwanese vessels taking one of the most sought after fish species from the Indian EEZ and exporting it to lucrative markets in Japan without the Indian government earning anything in exchange. These catchers are treated as Taiwanese catches since they trans-ship at high seas and there is no real way of verifying the amount and variety of fish being imported,” states the report.

Meanwhile, Tarun Shridhar, joint secretary in the Department of Fisheries, says the report is not completely based on facts. “The licences under the LoP scheme have been issued to around 80 vessels but currently only 19 are operational. We have got specific complaints about the dual registration of a few vessels and have asked the Director General of Shipping and Coast Guards to investigate in the issue.” He adds, if the violations are found, serious actions will be taken against those vessels.

India remains empty-handed

The economic losses caused by this are huge, estimates the report. Indian EEZ sustains one of the last healthy Tuna populations in the world. According to the industry estimates a Tuna long liner LoP vessel catches 200 to 250 tonnes of the fish in one season. The total annual catch of one such vessel thus comes to around Rs 630 crore. In return, the public exchequer receives a miniscule proportion through deposition fee of Rs 10,000 and some taxes levied on the catch. Besides, due to over exploitation of Indian waters by the LoP vessels, the catches of local fishing communities are constantly declining.

 Indian Fishing communities for long have been demanding the LoP scheme to be scrapped. “The scheme has yielded very little either in terms of revenue, employment generation or the actual development of an indigenous deep sea fishing industry,” says V Vivekanandan, advisor, National Fishworkers Forum and South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies. It instead causes deterioration of fish population levels and local marine ecosystems, he adds.

About the demand of fishing communities to scrap the LoP policy, Shridhar says, “There can be problems with any policy. We will bring the issues brought out by the Greenpeace in the inter-ministerial meeting and take a decision accordingly.”

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  • Pirate Fishing in India is in

    Pirate Fishing in India is in the blind side of vision. There are huge loses in biodiversity and economics worldwide due to pirate fishing. A recent report by "International Consortium of Investigative Journalists" brought out a three part report series "Looting the Seas" [] that blatantly expounds the truth behind politics around world fisheries.

    Recently, myself and three of my friends were discussing about this illegal trade. My stand point was that, most of the people in Indian Subcontinent don't even know how ecologically rich our shorelines are. What kind of species inhabit the shores, their ecology, flora and faunal biodiversity, culture of fisherfolks and economics of artisanal fishers. There are two ways to attend this situation.
    1. Proactive campaigning through (activism)
    2. Education, involvement and taking efforts to make people understand the ecosystem (though it takes lots of time)

    There are many reports/fact sheets which mention that India is the second largest shark finning *(a cruel practice where sharks are finned alive and discarded back into the sea with blood oozing out of their bodies) nation in the world.We don't even know how far this is true (pdf: When I talk to people about Sharks in Bay of Bengal, they respond in amazement asking whether we do have sharks here? To make people understand about the importance of sharks and dispel their ignorance in accepting the fact that India is the second largest finning nation in the world, we need to make them understand the Indian shores, initially! India has 8118 kms of vast coastline. Orissa on the east till Gujarat in the west is flanked by subtropical marine biodiversity rich in flora/fauna species and habitats.

    High seas are used like veils to hide underground business in which governments and huge corporations consume illegal money. "Nobody knows, nobody cares" is the attitude which had been developed in the minds of politician and corporations/MNC's. The culture of using sea as recreational entity is lost. None seems to be curious about what lies beneath the oceans. Sometimes encapsulated by fear, people are forced to keep off the sea. This needs to be rectified and a culture where people responsibly utilize the benefits of the ocean without hampering this fragile ecosystem needs to be brought back.

    Rahul Muralidharan
    Marine Ecologist

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • hiya sir, our

    hiya sir,

    our government allowing srilanka fisherman for looting our sea but their shooting our fishermen if they crossed the broder line. so for me bay is open ground to very one and it is big same for us.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • hi, fishermens are our eyes


    fishermens are our eyes and ears when it comes to safety and security of our coast line. no matter our coastguard or indian navy has a fleet of technologicaly advanced ships, but fisherman stands at the formost when it comes to meeting face to face with security breaches.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • I am not surprised that rich

    I am not surprised that rich owners of large trawlers, indulge in this exercise. The Indian is getting a bad name for exploiting any loophole that exists on land, air,sea. He is a master of deceit.He will indulge in any activity that brings him money. MOney is his god. To hell with nature and its inhabitants. And in this they are encouraged by the corrupt politicians. It is business as usual.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Boss it's not the Indians who

    Boss it's not the Indians who are using the loop holes but foreign "factory ship" owners....especially from Taiwan.I am sure the politicians a recieve a huge cut. Ships are said to earn 11 crore each season and there are 200 or more such factory ships.Foreigners surpass indians in destruction and anarchy. They use nets that are banned and kill or destroy the young fishes which is of no value to them.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Thank you sir for this

    Thank you sir for this informative article. I'm aware of the green-peace report. My father has two boats. But we are not dependent on income from boats. But there are lakhs of people who are wholly dependent on fishing. Such huge scale exploitation will eventually lead to destruction of livelihoods of these people who don't know any other job than fishing. In recent article in malayala manorma as many as 200 or more fishing factory ships are said to operate in indian waters. The use banned nets, that can stretch upto 65-90 kms, that are reported to include the juveniles which are killed or destroyed. The by-catch are reportedly killed and thrown into sea. Now they are coming near to shore which is a far dangerous trend. Most probably because the fish in deep waters are dwindling. Fishermen have reported large scale fish remains at sea from various parts of kerala. Its time we take some action.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • sir can i get details about

    sir can i get details about how many ships fishing in the arabian sea now.contents of the license given to foreigners by our governmet


    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
  • If this is the case ,then what is the use of issuing L.O.P. to the foreign vessels?

    Posted by: MK Salim | 3 years ago | Reply
  • The provision in the L.o.p. licence permitting for mid sea sales must be scrapped and specify strictly that all the fish catch by these trawlers must be delivered only in indian ports.

    Posted by: M.k.salim. | 2 years ago | Reply