K.P.M. Basheer

June 1 meet to discuss ‘migration’ of fishing boats from other States

KOCHI: The annual ban on fishing by mechanised boats using trawls during the southwest monsoon season will begin on the midnight of June 14, sending over 3,000 trawl boats in the State into hibernation for 45 days.

The ban, aimed to facilitate natural breeding of the common pelagic fish along Kerala’s coastline, this year comes in the thick of the global economic recession which has dipped demand for seafood from abroad.

While the fishing holiday has been restricted to just 45 days in Kerala, in other fishing States it lasts three months. Again, while the traditional fishing sector (those which use ‘valloms’ (country craft), instead of mechanised boats for fishing) has been exempted from the ban, in other States it applies to the entire fishing sector irrespective of the vessels or the equipment used. This will turn out to be a problem for Kerala as fishing boats from those States might migrate to Kerala’s waters after the ban in the State is lifted and the ban is still effective in those States. Also, since traditional fish workers are outside the ban, vallom fish workers in other States would find Kerala’s waters tempting.

At a meeting of fisheries officials and leaders of fish workers’ unions called by Fisheries Minister S. Sarma in Thiruvananthapuram to discuss the ban on Thursday, the migration issue cropped up as a major problem. A decision on how to fend off fishing by migrants would be taken at the meeting the Minister has called for June 1 to discuss the ways to make the ban effective. That meeting will be attended by senior officials of the Navy, Coast Guard, police and others.

Though export demand for fish has come down and hence the price too, the domestic market is still buoyant. The price of fish remains very high because of the shortfall in supply.

The ban will be will be lifted on July 31.

Fish sustainability

The monsoon ban on trawling, an annual feature in Kerala since 1988, is aimed at facilitating unhindered breeding of fish during the rainy season—the trawls are said to harm young fish en masse, though traditional fish workers and mechanised boat owners have differing views on the impact of the ban.

The southwest monsoon period is the reproduction time of nearly 300 species along India’s western coast.

The ban is not applicable to the traditional fish workers as the Kerala Monsoon Fishery (Pelagic) Protection Bill 2007 has exempted them. The Act enables them to catch pelagic fish — such as oil sardine and mackerel — in the State’s territorial waters that stretch to 12 nautical miles. However, they can fish only in the territorial waters and catch only pelagic fish.

The law was made to overcome the restrictions imposed by a Supreme Court directive that asked governments of coastal States to enforce a ban on trawling during the monsoon period by mechanised boats as well as fishing by country craft that used engines of more than 9.9 HP. Since the huge majority of traditional fishermen with valloms in Kerala used inboard engines with a capacity much higher than the stipulated HP, they were deprived of their source of livelihood during the ban period.

The monsoon ban hits the livelihoods of workers on the trawl boats as well as those engaged in fish processing. However, a section of workers on the trawl boat switch over to the valloms during the monsoon. The processing workers are affected because of the sharp decline in fish availability.

The trawl ban started in Kerala in 1988 on a recommendation by the Dr. A. Balakrishnan Nair Committee. The committee in three subsequent reports reiterated the need for the annual ban.