To press for exemption of the fishing sector from the purview of the Indo-ASEAN trade pact, the Fisheries Joint Action Council will blockade the Kochi port on Monday.
Hundreds of fishing boats and valloms will lay siege to the shipping channel at the sea mouth off Fort Kochi from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the day, Action Council general secretary Joseph Xavier Kalppurackal said.
Fisheries Minister S. Sarma is expected to kick off the blockade. The LDF government is opposed to the ASEAN agreement on the ground that the Kerala farmers and fishworkers would be hit hard, as the prices of cash crops and fish would slump in the face of cheap imports from the South East Asian nations. Mr. Sarma, as part of the resistance to the accord, is planning to convene a meeting of Fisheries Ministers of the seven coastal States.
Mr. Kalappurackal said the accord in relation to fish was full of illogical clauses. In the first place, India wouldn’t benefit from it as there was no scope for export of fish to these countries as these nations, with smaller populations, produced very large quantities of fish themselves.
He noted that the accord treated farm products and fish products the same way by categorising the products into Normal List, Sensitive List and Exclusion List. This was totally illogical and showed a lack understanding of the fishing sector realities on the part of the framers of the accord, he said.
For instance, oil sardine, has been placed in the Exclusion List, thus keeping it out of the import basket. This would not in any way help the fish workers as sardines had a unique, but unstable, domestic market which was based on the socio-economic realities. Sardine, the cheapest fish and with a very short shelf life, was generally purchased when other fish varieties were not available. It was not exported as there was no overseas demand and it could not be preserved for long. Again, since very few countries harvested sardines, [and hence there was no scope for them to export sardines to India] there was no point in banning the import by placing it in the Exclusion List. When other fish are available in plenty, the price of sardines plummets and sometimes they are even thrown back into the sea. In fact, by allowing other fish to be imported, because of the unique characteristics of the sardine market, the domestic prices of sardines would automatically fall.
Mr. Kalppurackal said the blockade of the port was the first of a series of agitations planned by the fishing sector against the ASEAN accord. The blockade was also to protest the Central Government’s insistence that all boats longer than 15 metres should be registered with the Mercantile Marine Department.