Traditional fishermen denounce proposal to give five additional fishing hours for mechanised vessels

The augmentation of time in favour of mechanised vessels may deplete the marine wealth, say environmentalists.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

THOOTHUKUDI: Fisheries Minister Anitha R Radhakrishnan's recent announcement about the proposal to provide additional five fishing hours for mechanised vessels has not gone down well with traditional fishermen as well as marine conservationists.

As per the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act (TNMFR), 1983, mechanised fishing vessels are allowed to fish between 5 am and 9 pm in the sea within 12 nautical miles (nm) from the shore. The Minister said that the department was considering extending it by five hours from the existing 16 hours.

The announcement comes at a time when the Union and the Tamil Nadu government have been working on trawler diversification schemes and extending financial support to fishermen in Palk bay, districts including Nagapattinam, to do away with the trawling method and to purchase new deep sea fishing gill netter cum long liner vessels. They have also ensured not to give new registration for the trawlers since 2017 in the districts Ramanathapuram, Pudhukottai, Thanjavur and Nagapattinam.

The TNMFR Act was drafted for the mechanised vessels having engine capacity of 70 HP to reach the fishing ground in four hours and fish for eight hours. However, the relevant sections were amended four times to legitimate mechanised vessels measuring 24 metre-long and 240 HP for fishing, said advocate Dayan representing country boat fishermen.

Thoothukudi Country Boat Fibre Boat Fishermen Association president Dr SJ Gayes alleged that many mechanised vessels use chinese made engines of more than 600 HP capacity, which helps them to reach out to the fishing ground quickly and do fishing for more than 12 hours. It also attracts Labour Acts, which permits only eight hours work per day for a labour, he charged.Though law permits to fish between 5 nm to 12 nm, in reality it is disregarded as the mechanised vessels trawls right from two nm to as far as 40 nm, which eventually destroys marine wealth and risking livelihood of country boat fishermen, he says.

Environmentalists say, "More the fishing hours, more the catch, and hence more the destruction of marine wealth. This allows fishermen to catch double the quantity of fish in a single day, which otherwise is done in two days." The augmentation of time in favour of mechanised vessels may deplete the marine wealth, they say.

Jones, an environmental activist, noted that fishing practice using trawlers is already proven to be a destructive fishing method as it involves dragging or sweeping the sea bed for several kilometres, which wipes out the underwater ecosystem such as corals, reefs, seagrass and other marine life. To find a solution, trawlers should be banned in the terrestrial waters.

"Otherwise, the State government should be empowered to grant license for the deep sea fishing vessels to fish beyond 12 nm, that fall into the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is a union government domain, so that the mechanised vessel fishing does not affect the traditional fishermen and the sea environment", he suggested.

Gayes said the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had set aside an impugned order issued by Kovilpatti Revenue Divisional Officer dated October 13, 2009 extending one hour of fishing for Vembar fishermen. The minister's announcement contradicts the court order and also interest of the State government to phase out the trawlers, he said while seeking intervention of Chief Minister MK Stalin.

Meanwhile, mechanised boat owners were happy. A boat owner told TNIE, "The spiking fuel price has been a major constraint for us as it has eaten into our profit margin in just a few years. As fishing resources have drastically reduced, they have to go as long as 35 to 40 nm for trawling. "We depend on the volume of catch to get a profitable income, given that the catch is after all auctioned, which may be profitable or yield loss." he said.

A senior official said that the mechanised vessels play a crucial role in bringing revenue out of fishing. "Of the total catch, 70 percent is achieved by the mechanised vessels", he said.

When asked, Fisheries minister Anitha R Radhakrishnan told TNIE that there is demand among the mechanised vessel fishermen to increase the fishing hours citing spiking fuel cost. "It will be discussed at the department level with consent from the Chief Minister MK Stalin. It needs to be deliberated with both country boat and mechanised vessel fishermen before amending the Act", he said.

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