Illegal fishing posing threat to turtle nesting

Satyasundar Barik
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No check on the movement of mechanised trawlers

Carcass of Olive Ridley turtle which was believed to have died after being hit by a fishing trawler along the Devi River Mouth.
Carcass of Olive Ridley turtle which was believed to have died after being hit by a fishing trawler along the Devi River Mouth.

As the sun sets in on this coast of Orissa, dozens of lights start blinking on roaring sea water of Bay of Bengal. Neither they could be small fishermen daring mighty sea on country boat in night, nor do big vessels ferry in large numbers in this part.

Dozens of mechanised trawlers came from nowhere to swarm along the coast for fishing, which is banned from November 1 to May 31 to facilitate nesting of endangered Olive Ridley turtles.

The Devi River Mouth, though hosts sporadic nesting of Olive Ridley, records one of the highest turtle mortality on account of fishing trawlers. This year was also no exception.

On Tuesday about a dozen mechanised fishing trawlers could be spotted on sea just in front of forest department's beat house at Alasua, about 15 km from Astaranga. But fishermen boarding the trawlers kept on fishing as if there was no fear from the forest department.

The impact on shore-bound Olive Ridley sea turtles started to be seen. “Hundreds of sea turtle came to Devi River Mouth for laying eggs from January 1 to 5. However, about carcasses of 500 to 600 turtles could be found during that period,” alleged Bichitrananda Biswal, an enthusiastic volunteer who keeps tab on turtle nest every year.

The version of local volunteer could be dubbed by the forest department as exaggeration of facts, but Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India after conducting an in-depth study found that illegal fishing by mechanised trawlers was main reason behind mass deaths.

The WII study says highest 65 per cent of turtle mortality was recorded in the month of February in 2009 at Devi River Moth when near shore trawling activity was highest during that time frame (46 per cent trawls). The study says total turtle mortality in 2009-10 were 1900 as researchers encountered trawlers about 5200 in those the same year. The forest department officials are supposed to be alert during this stretch of coast because of nesting by Olive Ridley turtles. But repeated attempts to reach Puri forest division proved futile.

When contacted, Chief Wildlife Warden P. N. Padhi admitted presence of large number of mechanised fishing trawlers near the shore. “I have just completed a quiet survey along the coast. There were mechanised fishing trawlers on sea water along the coast,” Mr. Padhi said.

The forest department decided to take help of Indian Coast Guard more frequently to conduct raids on trawlers which were violating fishing ban from November 1 to May 31, he said.

Surprise raids

Chief Wildlife Warden said Divisional Forest Officer of Rajnagar, Puri and Berhampur would coordinate among themselves in consultation with Coast Guard to conduct surprise raids. As of now seven trawlers had been seized for fishing illegally along the coast, he said.



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