KENDRAPARA: The arrest of 240 marine fishermen and seizure of 40 fishing boats from Gahirmatha in November by the forest officials on charges of illegal fishing in the turtle zone has brought forest officials and fishermen into conflict.While conservationists and forest officials want a fishing ban to protect the turtle, marine fishermen, who have been fishing for generations, have launched an agitation to safeguard their rights.
There is a gloomy future for around 30,000 fishermen of the district and its nearby areas after the authorities imposed seven-month fishing ban from November 1 to May 31 on the 20-km stretch off the coast within the marine sanctuary, said Narayan Haldar, a leader of fishermen community and president of Odisha Masyajibi Forum.
Saroj Manna of the seaside Suniti village was arrested by forest guards on November 12 while fishing in the sanctuary. Forest guards also seized the boat. He, along with six fishermen, were released from jail on November 24 after spending 12 days in custody.“Though I was released from jail, the forest officials are yet to hand over my boat to me. I had taken loan amount of `two lakh from a bank last year to purchase the boat. I have been running from pillar to post to get back my boat,” said a worried Saroj.
“I had purchased a trawler by availing loan of `10 lakh from a bank two years back. But on November 5, forest officials seized my trawler in Gahirmatha. In the absence of other livelihood opportunities, the fishing nets and trawlers have been the breadwinner for us,” said Madhaba Mandal of Gogua village.
Like Saroj and Madhaba, the fate of thousands of marine fishermen in the district is now at stake.
Forest Range Officer Srirampada Arabinda Mishra said, “All the arrested fishermen were actively fishing in prohibited areas designated only for rookery of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. We found out that most of the arrested fishermen went fishing in the night without turning on their boat lights for fear of being caught. The purpose of our operations is to combat illegal fishing activities within the sanctuary and protect the turtles.”