KOCHI: The drive launched by the Fisheries Department to curb juvenile fishing in coastal waters has invited the wrath of boat owners, who are planning to launch a stir alleging harassment. The department had launched the drive following a decision taken in a meeting convened by Fisheries Minister J Mercykutty Amma. At the meeting, boat owners and traditional fishermen had accepted to strictly follow sustainable fishing practices, including the enforcement of minimum legal size (MLS) of important fish species.
However, boat owners allege that the Marine Enforcement Wing of the Fisheries Department is harassing them by imposing exorbitant fines and auctioning the catch in the name of juvenile fishing.
“A study by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) had said that 40 per cent juvenile content is permissible in the catch. Even the minister had agreed that boats wouldn’t be penalised if the presence of juvenile fish was less than 40 per cent. However, the Fisheries Department is imposing fines and impounding the catch even when juvenile content is less,” said Munambam Boat Owners’ Coordination Committee chairman PP Girish. According to him, boat workers are refusing to go for a fishing expedition due to harassment by the officers.
“Most boat workers are residents of Colachel in Tamil Nadu and a section of them have returned to their native place in view of Onam season. Workers have informed us that they will not return for work if the Fisheries Department continues to harass them. Based on the assurance given to the minister, we had stopped using pelagic nets from September 1. We are using a single net with big mesh size. Still, authorities continue imposing fines in the name of juvenile fishing,” said Girish.
‘Issue concerns fishers’ livelihood’
Vypin MLA S Sarma, who had convened a meeting of fisheries officials and boat owners to sort out the issue, said the complaints need to be addressed as it concerns the livelihood of fishermen.“The Fisheries Department should register a case and impose fine if the content of juvenile fish is above 40 per cent. All stakeholders have accepted the need for self-regulation to ensure sustainable fishing. But workers are not intentionally catching juvenile fish. They have stopped using pelagic nets to avoid catching fish below minimum legal size. I have appraised the minister about the complaints of boat owners and it will be addressed,” he said.
‘We are only enforcing the decision’
Fisheries Assistant Director Joice Abraham has brushed aside the allegations of harassment. “All stakeholders had accepted to adopt sustainable fishing practices in the meeting. We are only enforcing the decision. Though mechanised boat owners had informed that they would not use pelagic nets from September 1, many are still using it. We impose fines and impound the catch only if the content of juvenile fish is high. We impounded the catch of two boats on September 2 and 3 as there were huge quantities of juvenile squid in it,” he said. Joice Abraham said the Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation Act does not specify that 40 per cent juvenile fish is permissible in the catch. “The government has enforced minimum legal size to stop the depletion of marine resources and the boat owners should abide by the regulations,” he said.