Orissa government on Sunday imposed a seven-month-long ban on fishing activity along the entire 20 km stretch of Dhamra-Barunei mouth within Gahirmatha marine sanctuary in view of the commencement of mass nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles, triggering protests by fishermen.

An estimated 25,000 traditional marine fishermen in coastal Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts are likely to be affected by the prohibitory measures.

The ban has been imposed in accordance with Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act (OMFRA), 1982 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Prasanna Kumar Behera, Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division, said.

As many as 212 marine fishermen were arrested and 84 sea worthy trawlers and vessels were seized during the ban imposed last time for fishing along the prohibited water zones.

In view of drop in marine fish catch and subsequent loss of avocation, the fishermen were seeking temporary permits for fishing on once-a-week basis.

Last year the government had committed in this regard, but it was never implemented pushing the fishermen from these parts to the brink of poverty, said a spokesman of the local traditional marine fishermen association.

According to fishermen of these areas, conservation of endangered Ridleys is of paramount importance but it should not be at the cost of livelihood of thousands of fishermen, who cause no harm to these species.

Most traditional fishermen fish in the 5 km stretch with indigenous net which do not harm turtles whereas breeding turtles get killed by trawlers, which use mono-filament nets that entangle the turtles, they claimed.

The prohibition in past years has affected the economy of the region, solely regulated by fishing sector.

Besides fish production, ancilliary sectors like ice-factories and net making units in areas like Dhamra, Jamboo, Kharinasi, Ramnagar, Sandhakuda, Ambiki, Erasama and Paradipgada have been closed down while skilled boat—makers are heading to Digha and Vishakhapatnam due to bleak business.

The forest department has its own way of demarcating the sea territory while state marine fisheries had a separate demarcated line to detect unlawful fishing. The fishermen are confused by the separate demarcation yardsticks, they said.

To corroborate their point, they cited the death of Bikash Biswas on December 14, 2006. The vessel with him was in legitimate zone as per fisheries directorate’s demarcation.

But a forest patrol vessel thought otherwise and shot him dead, the fishermens’ union said.

Early implementation of subsistence package remained in the list of priorities of agitating fishermen. The government had announced Rs 2,700 a month for full time fishermen and Rs 1,350 for part timers. But the committed resolve has come a cropper, they said.