Fishing in troubled waters

The Union Government’s draft guidelines on deep sea fishing have sparked unrest among fishing communities along the coast of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. According to the fishermen, who mostly practice traditional fishing methods, this bill aims to corporatize the fishing sector. This will take them away from the high seas and eventually force them out of their occupation.

According to the bill, all vessels flying the Indian flag will need a permit to fish on the high seas and vessels over 25 meters in length will be fined Rs 5 lakh. The draft policy also specifies that the permitting process would be centralized. This, fishermen say, is a cause for concern as not all fishermen can travel to Delhi just to get a licence. They also say that the whole bill seems to favor businesses more than fishers.

The All India Deep Sea Fishers Association has written a letter to the Union government stating that the provisions of the draft policy should be reviewed and the fees reduced. The bill also aims to put in place a fishing limit, up to a value of Rs 12,000 per day. Fishermen see these problems as a threat to their future.

One of the main problems facing traditional fishermen is the depletion of fresh water due to heavy industrial activity along the coasts. According to Vareethiah Konstantine, a writer and ecologist from Kanyakumari who has studied coastal ecosystems, “due to the operation of corporate sectors and their encroachment along the coastline, the quantity and quality of fishing in coastal waters drops to a fast pace.

“Coastal waters do not receive the same volume of fresh water each year as they received in the past. Heavy pollution due to the clustering of industries along the coast and the mixing of fresh water with the sea contributes to a faster decline in fishing This is a serious problem.

“One of the reasons fishermen are protesting the bill so strongly is that what they had before in coastal waters is running out, so naturally they are forced to go deeper and deeper. When you try to prevent them from going to the high seas, they have no future.

“Coastal waters need to be protected and some sort of regulation of coastal waters and fishing needs to be framed. But the government is doing the opposite.”

Konstantine also said the problem actually dates back to the 1980s, when foreign vessels were allowed by the Union government to fish in Indian waters. “They couldn’t monitor where they were actually fishing and what kind of fishing methods were being adopted and how much they were harvesting.

“There have been some attempts by the government to create a system to monitor the movement of these vessels in Indian waters. The joint venture scheme was to allow Indian fishermen to be trained in the use of foreign vessels.

“The Union government didn’t ask for any share or division of the profits from these vessels, but in return they wanted the foreign vessel users to train our fishermen. That didn’t happen. Then some kind of Tracking system to monitor the movement of foreign vessels in Indian waters has been devised, but this mechanism has not worked either.

“Now the fishermen are angry because a government that didn’t even care about illegal fishing by foreign vessels is placing many restrictions on native fishermen, who use native fishing vessels.”

He added, “We need to look at it in relation to other issues such as land rights, agricultural land and hill tribe rights. All are subject to the same kind of treatment from the government. This trend is not healthy. It’s time for fishermen or farmers to stop fighting alone, it’s time for them to come together, because their problem is the same.

“You see reports of roads being built along the coast and international transshipment terminals. There are struggles all along the coast of the country. People understand that they have no future when they are pulled from the coast and the government is doing everything to remove them from their traditional way of life with their draconian legal instruments.This is an alarm for all the working classes.

About Alexander Estrada

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