An international report on fishing, released on the occasion of ‘World Ocean Day’ on Friday, is an eye-opener. It warns the nation against the dangers of overfishing and stresses the need for conservation. Fishing is the main profession for about 15 million people living on the sea coast and contributes about 2 per cent to the gross domestic product. Over the years, they have been going farther and farther into the deep sea to catch fewer and fewer fish. Fishing has become an endangered profession, threatening loss of jobs to millions.
When stocks are overfished, they yield a smaller catch. A recent study found that Kenyan fishermen now catch an average of 3 kg of lobster on each trip, compared to 28 kg in the 1980s. Indian fishermen, too, have a similar story to tell. Yet, the demand for fish has been increasing, thanks to better transportation and refrigeration facilities. The cost of mismanagement, in lost economic output, is large; some $50 billion a year, according to the World Bank. New technology is the villain of the piece. Technology developed for battlefields makes shoals easier to detect. Because technology lets fishermen fish with less effort, it disguises just how fast the stocks are depleting.
Half-hearted measures like seasonal banning of trawling have been attempted with little effect in some states like Kerala. Dumping of pollutants into the sea and hot water from atomic plants and other industries also lead to death of fish. However, one redeeming aspect is that compared to such problems as acidification, warming and destruction of coral reefs, overfishing can be easily handled. All it needs is enforcing discipline on fishing. Total ban on fishing during the breeding season is one such step. Introducing rights-based fishing is another. Total ban on fishing of endangered species is yet another. In any case, the present laissez-faire situation must end in the interest of both fish workers and consumers, as the report underscores.