Marine protected areas have put thousands of fishers out of business. It doesn't have to be so
Gaurang Saha was a prosperous fisher in Kharnasi, a seaside village on the eastern coast of India. He owned four boats, which he would rent
out for fishing. In return he would get a share of the catch. The sea was full of fish, and the business good. Everyone in the village who could afford
it was buying boats.
Saha is no more; he killed himself. The coast close to Kharnasi in Kendrapara district of Orissa is where endangered Olive Ridley turtles mate
and nest. In 1997, the Orissa government notified 1,435 sq km of sea and coast in Kendrapara a marine sanctuary, Gahirmatha. They banned
fishing there and the catch began to fall. Forest officials seized Saha's two boats when he was out in the sea. Then one day in 2004, unable to
repay Rs 4.50 lakh he had borrowed from fish merchants to buy the boats, the 55-year-old consumed poison.
Today, Saha's two teenaged daughters roll bidis to keep the family going. "My daughters had to drop out of school because I could not
even buy books for them," said Saha's widow Arati, sitting in her concrete but run-down house.
A few houses away a bust of Bikas Biswas sits inside a pavilion in the compound of a house. He did not kill himself; he fell to a forest guard's
bullet near the sanctuary in 2006. The government gave his wife Manmohini a compensation of Rs 1 lakh. "How can I take care of four children
with this?" she asked.
Lean, middle-aged Sheetal Das of Kharnasi has stopped going to the sea. He received the first blow when he lost his boat in the super cyclone
of 1999. He began fishing in a hired boat, but the returns were meagre. The loss of business so affected him that he has lost his mental
Marine sanctuary or suicide zone
GAHIRMATHA MARINE SANCTUARY
Core area - 725.50 sq km
Buffer area -
709.5 sq km
Fishers affected -
The sea off the Gahirmatha coast provided business to over 43,000 fishers in 90
villages, mostly in Mahakalpada and Rajnagar blocks of Kendrapara. The once prosperous fishing belt of India is turning into the Vidarbha of
Orissa. According to Narayan Haldar, the president of the Orissa Traditional Fishworkers' Union (otfwu
), six fishers
in the area have committed suicide in the past six years. All of them were unable to repay loans because of dwindling fish catch following
restrictions on fishing in Gahirmatha sanctuary. Local newspapers claim the toll to be higher.
Rasmay Mandal, 56, hung himself from a tree in the backyard of his house in Ramnagar village in Mahalkalpada in 2002. Mandal had one boat
but he had borrowed Rs 80,000 from moneylenders, whom he had to sell his catch. But after restrictions there was no catch. His widow Kalidasi
Mandal survives on the income of her eldest son Ganesh, who out of no choice still goes out fishing in hired boats. "Sometimes he manages Rs
30-50 a day, sometimes he gets nothing," said Kalidasi, frail, standing barefoot outside her thatched house.
In Kharnasi, Basanti Saraswati vows never to let any of her seven sons take up fishing. Fishing brings nothing but misery, she said. Her husband
Buddhanand Saraswati had committed suicide in 2006. Saraswati owned six boats. To expand his business he took a loan of about Rs 15 lakh
from different sources. But the catch soon nosedived. "The boats lay idle; some were destroyed. He was unable to repay loans," said Basanti.
The family of nine now depends on the earnings of Buddhanand's son Bismay. An engineering graduate, Bismay works in a
chemical-processing factory in Saudi Arabia.
Many youths in Kharnasi and Ramnagar have migrated in search of jobs. These include Kalidasi's two sons who now work as labourers in
Marine protected areas in India
31 such areas have been officially declared
|Source A paper presented by Chandrika Sharma at a workshop organized by the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers in Chennai in 2009
Bikas, whose brother Bidyadhar Ram ended his life by taking poison in 2005, is also planning to leave Ramnagar. Some are suffering
from trauma. Forty-five-year-old Kamala Bala Das is waiting for her husband, Arun, who went missing from Kharnasi three years ago. "He had
developed psychiatric problems. We took him to Cuttack for treatment but it didn't help. Then one morning he went missing," said Kamala, who
has three sons to look after.
Now Orissa is planning to declare the Rishikulya and Devi river mouths near Gahirmatha, marine protected areas (mpa
s). This will affect another 48,000 fishers in Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Ganjam districts. At present, restrictions apply
from November to May, when turtles breed and nest.
All along the coastline
Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in Orissa is not the only mpa
where traditional rights of the fishing community have been trampled. Along the Indian coastline, including islands, there are 31 mpa
s (see map Marine protected areas in India
). Another 100 protected areas, like Chilika lake in Orissa, partly
contain marine environment. During the 1980s and 1990s, mpa
s were created as national parks or wildlife
sanctuaries under the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 (see What is an
). But provisions of the act supporting the rights
and occupational interests of communities are yet to be implemented.
Extractive activities are not allowed in protected areas, but very few studies have focused on the impact this restriction has had on people
depending on fisheries. "A particular mpa
may be both a "biological success" and a "social failure", devoid of
broad participation in management, sharing of economic benefits, and conflict resolution mechanisms," states a 2008 study, Marine
protected areas in India
, by Chennai-based ngo
International Collective in Support of Fishworkers.
Ramya Rajagopalan of the ngo
last year researched in depth two mpa
s in southern
India--Gulf of Mannar National Park in Tamil Nadu, and Malvan (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra. In both mpa
s, fishing communities feel they do not have enough say in management, said Rajagopalan.
Fishers are demanding better implementation of fisheries legislation to control trawling and other commercial activities. They have also taken up
management initiatives to minimize the impact of fishing, but these have not received adequate official support, she added.
Alienated, not included
GULF OF MANNAR BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Total area -10,500 sq km
Core (national park) -560 sq km
People affected - 65,000
Take Gulf of Mannar national park and biosphere reserve, India's largest marine and
coastal protected area created in 1986 to conserve coral reef, mangroves and seaweed habitat. About 35,000 fishers, 25,000 sea cucumber
collectors and 5,000 seaweed collectors have come in conflict with forest guards after their access to fishing grounds was restricted in 2002,
according to Rajagopalan's study.
Fishers of Chinnapalayam, one of the affected 252 villages on the coast, have traditionally used non-motorized, wood-plank canoes called
. They would stay overnight on the nearby islands and return the next morning with the catch. However, due to restrictions on staying
on 21 islands, the practice has stopped.
Organized under the Ramnad District Fishworkers' Trade Union, the fishers are demanding removal of restrictions.Said S Arulanandam of the
union "Fishers who see themselves as the traditional custodians of the resources have been alienated from their traditional fishing grounds, and
are positioned as beggars in relation to the use of the protected resources."
Fishers have come up with their own suggestions. They want they be allowed to fish in the protected area for 12 days in a month. They have also
taken initiatives to protect marine resources. Chinnapalayam and Thoopukadu villages have self-imposed prohibition on collecting protected
species, destroying coral reefs, collecting corals, cutting mangroves, catching turtles and harvesting sea cucumbers. They do not collect
seaweeds for more than 12 days in a month. The villages have appointed a guard from within the fishers' community for enforcing the regulations.
Violators are penalized and sometimes handed over to forest guards.
However, the forest department does not recognize these efforts. It is working on a new management plan of the national park that forms the core
of the reserve, which will introduce more restrictions, said Rajagopalan.
Industry okay, fishers not okay
GULF OF KACHCHH MPA
Total area - 148.92 sq km of 42 islands, 309 sq km of intertidal zone along coast
National park area - 162.89 sq km
In the west, Gulf of Kachchh national park and sanctuary in Saurashtra region of
Gujarat is surrounded by industries, such as oil and petroleum, chemicals, cement, fertilizers, salt works, thermal power station, ports and jetties,
that harm marine ecology. The sanctuary's land has also been diverted for commercial use. The Union environment ministry has cleared
diversion of about half a hectare (ha) for a ship training centre. Another 24 ha have been given away to the Indian Oil Corporation, and 12.47 ha
to the Gujarat State Fertilizer Company. The ministry has granted over 20 leases to salt manufacturers on mangrove areas adjoining the
"Marine and coastal protected areas should not be seen as islands of protection, with degrading and destructive activities allowed in adjacent
areas," said K R Nair, fisheries development commissioner, department of animal husbandry and dairying under the Union agriculture
Fishers are at the receiving end. Since the boundary of the Gulf of Kachchh mpa
is not clearly demarcated--even
27 years after its creation--fishers are often accused of trespassing, said Nilanjana Biswas, independent researcher who has studied the
protected area. The management plan of the park is outdated; it was prepared in 1994.
Sunderban tiger reserve--which includes the Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary and the Sunderban
National Park--in West Bengal has an updated management plan. Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary also has an advisory committee with community
representatives, unlike other mpa
s. The trouble lies in the complicated system of permits through which the forest
department regulates fishing in the buffer area.
SUNDERBAN BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Total area - 9,630 sq km
Core area - 1,700 sq km
Families affected - 103,814
Last year, a Kolkata-based non-profit studied the fishing practices in the reserve. The study by the Society for Direct Initiative for Social and
Health Action found the forest department had issued boat licence certificates (blc
s) to 914 individual boat owners
in 1980 for fishing in the protected area. Since then no certificate has been issued, though over 103,800 families in 24 Parganas North and 24
Parganas South districts depend on fishing activities in the reserve.
A fisher needs three documents for fishing in the protected area A blc
certificate that has to be renewed every
year, a seasonal pass for fishing between August and March issued annually; and a permit for fishing or trading in fish. The permits are issued for
42 days. Often fishers forget to renew permits and are fined.It is mandatory for fishers to carry the three documents on each fishing trip within the
As if this system was not complicated enough, the department has come up with three categories of violations, each stranger than the other
prosecution report/charge sheet cases, compounded offence report and offence detected offenders not found. Fishers are unable to
comprehend offences and fines the forest department levies.
Why is mpa
management in India in such a mess? Rajagopalan points
out the trouble lies in the legal regime that covers protected areas. Both state and central governments can legislate on the subject of forests and
wildlife protection. The main Central legislation relevant to the designation of protected areas is the wildlife protection act of 1972, which was
amended in 2002 and 2006. "The act provides no definition of mpa
s. All mpa
s in the
country are either declared as sanctuaries or national parks," she said. "They are designated for conservation of an ecosystem, and not for
Rajagopalan claimed there is also a conflict between the forest and fisheries department. As soon as an area is declared protected, the forest
department takes over. No wonder the Centre's Marine Fishing Policy of 2004, which aims at augmenting the marine fish production of the
country and ensuring the socio-economic security of the traditional fishers, does not talk about mpa
s and their
Nilanjana Biswas, who studied the Gulf of Kachchh, claims the 1972 act was designed for the conservation of terrestrial areas and has a forest
focus. It is based on the principle of physical exclusion of human beings from protected areas. This exclusionist framework ignores fishing
communities' dependence on the sea for survival. It also fails to address the problems of a dynamic marine environment involving the movement
of water and water-borne pollutants, she said.
Recent amendments to the act tried to address fishing communities' concerns. The 2002 amendment directs state governments to settle the
rights of affected persons within two years of the notification of a sanctuary or national park. "To settle the rights of fishers one first needs to know
what legal rights they have. In India, the legal rights of the fishing community on territorial waters have not been specified, so how do you settle
them?" asked Rajagopalan. Only in the Sunderbans forest officials have recognized the rights of some fishers by issuing boat licence
certificates. The 2002 amendment also directs constitution of advisory committees with representatives from the fishing community for better
management of sanctuaries. Except in the case of Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary in the Sunderbans, such committees have not been set
Non-demarcation of mpa
boundaries has accentuated the fishers' troubles. It becomes near impossible for a
person to prove in court where he was in the sea. "Boundary demarcation is an exhaustive and expensive exercise, and state governments are
not equipped for the task," said Rajagopalan.
The fishing community is demanding a comprehensive legislation like the forest rights act of 2006. It recognizes the rights of the scheduled tribes
and other traditional forest dwellers over forest land. The fishers also claim that effective implementation of state-level marine fishing regulation
acts that restrict trawling and purse-seining--catching schools of fish near the ocean surface by circling them with a net--will go a long way in
conserving marine resources.
Strike a balance
Community-sensitive conservation is possible. Brazil has done it. Communities in the South American country are in the forefront of demanding, and setting up, sustainable-use marine reserves. They are using protected areas to safeguard their business against shrimp farms and tourism projects.
Back in India, organizations like otfwu
are demanding striking a balance between turtle conservation and fishing. "Our organization has on its own banned nets that harm turtles. But we also expect the government to be rational. The turtle protection area ought to be reduced," said Haldar, the union's president. He wants the 1,435 sq km protected area to be reduced to 15 sq km.
And compensation? Plans remain on paper. As per the 2004 calculations of the joint director of fisheries in Orissa, fishers affected by the ban in the turtle zone were losing Rs 47.20 crore annually. Haldar recommended compensating at least 60 per cent of the loss. The forest department is not even ready to discuss the proposal. Meanwhile, both fishers and turtles suffer. While officials put the turtle casualty figure since November last at 5,000, Wildlife Society of Orissa's secretary Biswajit Mohanty claimed nearly 10,000 have been killed.
Olive Ridley turtles certainly deserve a better deal in Orissa, but people like Haldar insist this should not be done at the cost of fishers. "We have as much right to survive as turtles," said the union president.
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