About a third of active fishermen in Kerala have threatened to launch an agitation against the new rules requiring fishing vessels 20 metres long or more to get their licences renewed by the Mercantile Marine Department under orders issued by the Union Shipping Ministry in August 2013.

To get the licence, boats need to have three separate stores for ice, water and fish as well as qualified engineer, engine driver and captain.

“This is an emotional and economic issue. The new rules are unviable and will adversely affect employment security of the fishermen and the food security of the people of Kerala,” said Charles George, the convenor of Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikyavedi.

He said the boats hardest hit by the new licensing norms would be the mechanised and motorised traditional boats. Mr. George said the traditional boats had a big role in 3.99 tonnes of oil sardines that landed in the State last year.

There are more than 14,000 outboard engine boats (where engines are mounted outside the hull of a boat) of which around 2,000 are over 20 metres long. Combined, with inboard engine boats (engines enclosed within the hull), they account for about 1.25 lakh fishermen.

There are also around 600 inboard engine boats and about 500 of them are 20 metres or more long. There are around 60 of these boats in Ernakulam district alone and about 40 of them fall under the proposed new licensing norms.

The district being the seat of the Navy, the Coast Guard and other marine enforcement agencies, fishermen operating in the seas off the Kochi coast will be the hardest hit. These agencies had been insisting on licence for the fishing boats and, under the new norms, the captain of the vessel playing without licence could get up to six months in jail and a fine of Rs. nine lakh, Mr. George said.

The boats which were now categorised as above 20 metres long had evolved out of the old traditional boats, said Mr. George. These vessels used to be licensed by the State Fisheries Department under the category Traditionally Modified Canoes.

The fishermen have appealed to the State and the Union governments to intervene so that the fisheries sector gets sufficient leeway to operate with freedom without compromising their traditional rights.

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