Livelihoods disrupted

Fishing ban to save Olive Ridleys leads to fisherfolk deaths

By Ashutosh Mishra
Published: Tuesday 15 August 2006

Orissa fisherfolk: Hard hit by (Credit: Greenpeace)a ban on fishing in some areas of Orissa to protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles is adversely impacting the lives of fisherfolk and their families. Since the ban came into force in 2000, at least eight fisherfolk are reported to have committed suicide because of the yearly seven-month restriction on fishing between November and May, when the Oliver Ridley turtles breed and nest.

Over 5,000 traditional fishing families staying close to Devi and Rishikulya river mouths and the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in the state have been affected. The turtles have their rookeries near the rivers with the largest being in the Gahirmatha sanctuary, where the fisherfolk are the worst-hit. Though the ban is for seven months, in the sanctuary's 20-km wide stretch of the sea off the Kendrapara coast, it is imposed throughout the year.

In November 2005, the body of Bidyadhar Ram, a fisherman of Kharnasi village in Kendrapara district, was found hanging from a tree. Ram was driven to suicide because of a sudden fall in his income as the catch dwindled with the sea becoming out of bounds for him during the most productive months.

Other such cases have been reported in the wake of the ban, which has pushed several members of the fishing community to the brink of starvation. With income from fishing too little to feed their family, most of them turn to moneylenders and fall into a debt trap.

Another fisherman from Kharnasi, Gaurang Saha, obtained a loan from a cooperative society and to repay that debt borrowed more money from a moneylender. His earnings from fishing were negligible and, unable to repay, he committed suicide.

Traditional fisherfolk describe the ban as irrational and allege that while big fishing trawlers get away with violating the ban, the authorities unnecessarily harass them.

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