Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has conveyed to the Centre the apprehensions of the State’s fishermen to certain provisions of the draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2009.

In his letter written to Union Minister for Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution on Thursday last (copies of which were released to the media on Monday), Mr Karunanidhi called for a wider debate before the Union government brings in an “inclusive and progressive” legislation on the subject.

As the fishing activities in the Palk Bay area of Tamil Nadu were already affected due to the “harassment of the fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy” and the marine fish production was already exhausted in territorial waters, the introduction of the legislation without consulting the fishermen community and other stakeholders would have “wider implications.”

According to the fishermen, the proposed penalty clauses were very severe and the conditions stipulated for fishing beyond 12 nautical miles (NM) were impractical. In this context, the Chief Minister pointed out that the Marine Fishing Regulation Act and its rules were being implemented in almost all maritime States including Tamil Nadu.

Though the State government had already communicated its remarks to the draft Bill, “it appears that the same have not been incorporated,” the Chief Minister said.

The stipulation on any Indian fishing vessel requiring a specific permit for fishing in any maritime zone outside the territorial waters implied that the fishermen, who were issued fishing licences to operate within the territorial waters of the State, would not be allowed to fish beyond 12 NM without getting another licence under the proposed law. “In as much the fishery resources in the inshore area have been almost completely exploited, the fishermen who have benefited by the motorisation scheme (under the Centrally sponsored scheme) and mechanised fishing crafts (below 15 metres overall length) are venturing into the sea beyond 12 nautical miles for exploiting the under-exploited offshore fishery resources,” he said.

The clause in the draft Bill would pave way for duplication of the licensing system. It was also not practically possible to prevent physically the fishermen, fishing beyond 12 NM, in the absence of clear-cut geographical zoning, Mr Karunanidhi argued, suggesting that deep sea fishing vessels registered under the Merchant Shipping Act/Mercantile Marine Department alone be covered.

As for the clause on offences and penalties, the Chief Minister said the fine of Rs. 9 lakh proposed for any vessel fishing without permit beyond territorial waters had generated vociferous protest from the fishermen as no fishing boat could fish even in Indian waters beyond 12 NM. This was against the schemes being implemented by the Union and State governments for encouraging fishermen to tap the under-exploited offshore resources for commercial species including Tuna, he added.