Poaching by foreign vessels in the EEZ cited as the reason

Dwindling tuna catch due to alleged poaching by foreign vessels on the East Coast has forced boat operators from Visakhapatnam to raise an alarm.

Thirty-odd mini-trawlers and 200 mechanised boats, which had a good catch last year, are returning to the shores with negligible number of yellow fin tuna, known for its Sashimi grade and in high demand for its culinary value in overseas market.

Majority of mechanised boat operators have opted out of tuna fishing during the current season (September-March) due to falling catch. “We are now depending on our survival on by-catch like marlins, sail fish and sword fish to meet our fuel expenses,” says Federation of Indian Fishery Industries president Y.G.K. Murti.

Estimated loss

Sources in the industry estimate the loss suffered by boat operators this season at around Rs.100 crore. On an average, a mini-trawler, which used to have six voyages last season and return with 25 to 30 tonnes, is now getting just three to four tonne of yellow fin tuna.

“One of the main reasons for this drastic reduction of yellow fin tuna catch in our Exclusive Economic Zone is the rampant illegal fishing and poaching by the foreign fishing vessels, especially from Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan,” Dr. Murti has told The Hindu.

The authorities confiscated a foreign vessel with the name Long Wang Hsin on January 12 in Andaman waters and handed it over to the Andaman and Nicobar administration. “Such foreign vessels being very big in size and having a fishing capacity of almost 20 times to that of our local fishing crafts with a fish hold capacity of 400-500 tonne, and fishing endurance period of more than three months are floating factories out at sea,” he says.

It is said a proper surveillance system will prevent entry of foreign vessels without any permission into the Indian waters. Though there is provision for three-tier coastal security viz. Marine Police in the territorial waters (from the shore to 12 nautical miles, Indian Coast Guard in the EEZ (from 12 to 200 nautical miles) and the Indian Navy in the international waters (beyond 200 nautical miles), boat operators say there is no proper control monitoring and surveillance. “Boat operators who invested over Rs.2 lakh to convert the vessel into tuna long-lining, do not want to burn our fingers by going for tuna catch. We are now preferring net fishing so as to get some high-value fish like shrimp,” says Ch. Satyanarayana Murthy, a boat owner.