Phase out bottom trawlers to protect sea ecosystem, say Tamil Nadu fishermen

Meanwhile, in a bid to restore marine biodiversity and stop erosion, the state government initiated the deployment of artificial reefs at 200 locations off the coast of six districts .
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only(Photo | Express)

THOOTHUKUDI: Flagging the practice of bottom trawling by mechanised fishing vessels, Thoothukudi fishermen urged the next union government to look into the issue seriously and put an end to the destructive fishing method in order to protect the marine biodiversity in Gulf of Mannar. According to sources, mechanised fishing vessels sweep the floor of the seabed while catching fishes, and the metal planks fitted for the suspension of trawlers damage the seabed, break coral reefs and deeply disturb benthic organisms, thereby adversely impacting the marine environment.

The application of bottom trawlers have also led to the depletion of marine resources as they recklessly bycatch juvenile fishes, especially in the Gulf of Mannar region which is known for its pristine coral reefs, environmentalists pointed out. It may be noted that coral reefs are a crucial part of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve that enriches marine resources. These corals were previously mined for construction purposes in coastal districts during the British era.

Meanwhile, in a bid to restore marine biodiversity and stop erosion, the state government initiated the deployment of artificial reefs at 200 locations off the coast of six districts -- Chennai, Chengalpattu, Villupuram, Mayiladuthurai, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli.

Dr Gayes, president of Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli country boat fishermen welfare association, told TNIE that the restoration of artificial corals to improve marine health would not be successful without eliminating the trawlers. Over 72 unregistered mechanised fishing vessels fitted with trawlers are being operated from Thoothukudi fishing harbour, without facing any legal action, he pointed out.

"The bottom trawlers have been existing since the 1970s. Substantial steps were taken to phase out these trawlers in the Palk Bay districts. The abolition of bottom trawling by mechanised boats, pair trawling, use of purse seine fish nets and others would certainly settle down apprehensions between Tamil Nadu fishermen and the Sri Lanka Navy, and also restore marine health" Gayes added.

As per a GO dated March 3, 2017, the Tamil Nadu government had banned the registration of new mechanised fishing boats with trawlers in the Palk Bay districts of Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam. "In order to reduce trawling pressure in the Palk Bay, the state government also initiated diversification of trawling pressure into deep sea fishing. Several subsidy schemes were also provided to replace the trawler mechanised vessels into gill netters and tuna fishing boats," said an official.

Furthermore, the state government had earlier prohibited pair trawling or fishing with purse seine nets for both country craft and mechanised boats irrespective of their size and power of engine in the entire coastal areas of Tamil Nadu in order to conserve the fishery (GO dated March 25, 2000). "Yet, the use of purse seine nets prevails in the state," said Gayes, and urged the government to take necessary action.

Meanwhile, Dr Kumaravelu, Vice Chairman, National Fish Workers Forum opined that the use of bottom trawling mechanised vessels continues in Ramanathapuram, Thoothukudi and Kanniyakumari districts owing to lack of scope on other fishing methods. "The government must look into the issues because of its adverse effects on the sea ecosystem," he added.

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