CHENNAI: Thousands of motorised boat fishermen from across the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu staged a protest in Chennai on Friday to lift the ban on the use of purse seine nets, which they claimed was affecting their livelihood.
Although the State government banned the use of purse seine nets, which is a non-selective fishing method that captures everything that it surrounds in 2000, it was never enforced strictly until the State government gazette notified Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules on February 17, 2020, and began taking punitive action against the violators.
As per Section 17 (7) of the Rules, no owner or master of any fishing vessel shall carry on fishing by pair trawling or fishing with purse seine net using any fishing vessel or craft whether country craft or mechanised boat irrespective of their size and power of the engine in the entire coastal area of the State.
But still, there are hundreds of boats and thousands of fishermen in Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagapattinam and Ramanathapuram districts who allegedly engage in purse seine fishing even today.
P Sundaravadivel, a fisherman from Cuddalore who took part in the protest, told TNIE: “instead of imposing a blanket ban, which was enforced without carrying out any scientific studies, The State government can regulate it. What we propose is to allow us to use purse seine nets outside the five nautical miles, which will protect the interest of small and traditional fishermen. Also, we want to use the nets only for four months in a year after the mandatory 61 days fishing ban period. These nets are used to target only migratory fish species like sardines, tuna and mackerel. It is not a destructive fishing practice as portrayed.”
In January this year, fishermen had moved the Madras High Court stating the neighbouring State, Kerala is allowing the use of such nets, but the first bench said each State can decide its policy and the policy of one State is not binding on another.
In June, the Supreme Court also heard a petition challenging the ban and sought a response from the Centre and the State. The Centre then formed an expert committee comprising scientists from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) to study the use of these nets.
CIFT director Leela Edwin told TNIE: “Since the matter is subjudice we can’t make any comments. All that can be said is that the study has been completed and CMFRI will submit the report to the Union Fisheries Ministry.”
Sources said in Tamil Nadu fishermen use different kinds of purse seine nets of varying mesh sizes. Some nets are smaller with a larger mesh size that allows juvenile fish to escape and trap only the targeted fish, but several other nets swipe out the entire fish resources from the area. In Kerala, the rules are enforced strictly and fishermen also are wary of depleting resources due to destructive fishing.
Purse seine nets
A purse seine is a large net used in an entire area. The seine floats along the top line with a lead line threaded through rings along the bottom. Once a school of fish is located, a skiff encircles them. The lead line is then pulled in, pursing the net closed on the bottom, preventing fish from escaping.