ALAPPUZHA: The fisherfolk in the state are virtually at sea, after India signed an international treaty that puts a bar on fishing five shark varieties and all manta rays from the Indian waters.
The treaty inked at the summit of the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Geneva, last month deals another blow to the fishing community in close succession.
Earlier, the Meenakumari Committee recommended to ban fishing in coastal waters and allow foreign trawlers in Indian waters, affecting the prospects of local fishermen. The main confusion lies in identifying the shark varieties while fishing. On an average the fishermen catch two to five sharks during a single venture.
“Not just sharks, many other varieties of fish are caught in our ‘valotta net’. Normally, we take all our catch together to the harbour and seggregate the varieties from the net. How can I identify the banned variety caught in our net? If a fish is released to sea after trapped in the net, it has very less chance of survival,” Sugunan, a local fisherman, said.
The agitated community is planning state-wide protests against the CITES and Meenakumari Committee recommendations. To begin with, a march from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram would be held this month through the coastal areas.
The convention banned fishing of the Oceanic white tip shark (carcharhinus longimanus), scalloped hammerhead shark (sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead shark (sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (sphyrna zygaena), porbeagle shark (lamna nasus) and manta rays (manta spp.). Kerala
Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation state general secretary Jackson Pollayil said the decision of state and Central governments would hit the fishing community. Breach of treaty could invite imprisonment up to five years or fine of Rs 25,000.
“The government had not discussed the issues with the representatives of fishermen before signing the CITES pact. How can we fishermen know which variety of shark is banned as we are familiar only with their local names?” Jackson said.
In Alappuzha, the sharks are called ‘manachiraku’, ‘njaramban’, ‘pachakannan’, ‘irumudiyan’, ‘neduman’, ‘vattathala’, ‘mezhukkan’ and ‘thumban’ whose names change in other districts.
While the Central Government has banned deep sea fishing, the foreign trawlers prey on these varieties in large scale.
The Meenakumari committee constituted by the Central Government recommends to ban coastal fishing up to 300 metres and allow deep sea fishing trawlers from foreign countries to conduct fishing in Indian waters.
Malsya Thozhilali Federation state president P P John said that the recommendation made by the Meenakumari committee was against the rights of fishermen as thousands would become jobless if the Centre implemented the report. The previous Cenral Government had constituted Murari committee to study the plight of the fishermen. The recommendations made by the Murari panel should be implemented and the Meenakumari committee report should be neglected, John said.
The fishermen organisations are planning an agitation by the end of this month to implement the Murari committee reports, he said. Fisheries Deputy Director S Mahesh said that the ban on the catching of endangered shark species was not practical. The fishing after separating the five endangered species of sharks from the sea would be impossible. But awareness campaign among fishermen would help to some extent reduce the catch of these varieties of sharks, he said.
P U Zachariah, principal scientist at Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), said the CITES treaty was applicable only for exports of these varieties of fish, and was not intended for domestic consumption.
He said even for international trade, the five shark species and all manta ray species, including their meat, gills and fins, need to have permits and certificates confirming that they have been harvested sustainability and legally.
To create awareness about the shark varieties and manta rays among fishermen, CMFRI has conducted programmes in Chennai in September and Mumbai in August.
The institute would also conduct similar programmes in Kerala, besides bringing out pamphlets, he said.