High-sea fishing: Unions question Centre’s move

The Union government introduced the Indian Marine Fisheries Bill in 2021, but it was not taken forward due to which the fishing in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone continues to be unregulated.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

KOCHI: The fishermen unions in Kerala are planning to launch an agitation demanding to modify the guidelines for the regulation of fishing by Indian-flagged vessels in the high seas by incorporating provisions to modernise the small-scale fisheries sector.

The unions have objected to the draft guidelines alleging that it encourages private capital investment which may facilitate corporate firms to enter the sector and thus adversely affect the livelihood of traditional fishermen.

The draft notification to issue permits for fishing operations in the area beyond national jurisdiction was issued in July 2022.  

“The scientific committee of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has cautioned against the over-exploitation of tuna resources. The precarious state of tuna stocks is evident from the fact that the catch of Yellowfin tuna has surpassed the maximum sustainable yield. The Centre is planning to issue permits to large factory vessels owned by corporate firms.

The guideline does not specify the number of vessels that will be provided licences to fish in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Issuing more permits will adversely impact the livelihood of traditional fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Kerala who are operating 900 vessels in the sector,” said Fishermen Coordination Committee president Charles George. 

The draft notification recommends a licence fee of Rs 5 lakh for vessels with a length of over 25m. The fee should be reduced by half and the number of licences should be regulated based on scientific advice, he said.

The concerns raised by small-scale fishermen are genuine and should be addressed, however, we cannot blindly oppose the move to promote fishing on high seas as large mother vessels from China, Korea and Japan are exploiting the resources, said fisheries researcher and founder vice chancellor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) B Madhusoodana Kurup.

“It is not wise to stay away from high seas fishing in the name of conservation, as it will not make any difference. The squid fishing in the Indian Ocean region grew by 830% during the past five years and the resources are mostly tapped by China. India has been a votary of international agreements on sustainable fishing like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA), the UN fish stocks agreement and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. We should adopt sustainable practices adhering to international regulations and discourage illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” he said.

Though the Union government had introduced the Indian Marine Fisheries Bill in 2021, it was not taken forward due to which the fishing in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) continues to be unregulated, said Madhusoodana Kurup. 

“We should demand strong regulations to fix the number of permits based on scientific data and to set the catch quota. Besides small-scale fishermen should be empowered to undertake high sea fishing by providing training and equipment. The number of permits for big vessels should be limited to 25%. By demanding a blanket ban we are missing an opportunity, he said.

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