The Union government has issued guidelines for the States on framing a Bill on inland fisheries and aquaculture, amid mounting concern over the pollution and encroachment of waterbodies in Kerala and the long- standing demand to protect the traditional rights and livelihood security of inland fishers.
The guidelines were issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DADF) under the Union Ministry of Agriculture to address the inadequacies in the existing regulations by States.
According to the guidelines, encroachment or reclamation of rivers, lakes and wetlands and pollution of water sources is to be treated as a punishable offence. Dumping of solid waste in lakes, wetlands and lagoons has also been recommended for punishment.
The guidelines propose regulations on the use of fishing craft and gear to protect commercially important fish species from exploitation.
States have been asked to notify protected areas and fishing holidays in waterbodies during the fish breeding season and ensure safe passage for migration of fish brooders to wetlands.
The Centre has also instructed States to consider aquaculture on a par with agriculture and ensure uniform incentives, tax benefits and concessional tariffs for both sectors.
Certification of fish seed and fish feed, disease monitoring and control and curbs on exotic species and destructive fishing practices are other provisions recommended for inclusion in the Bill.
A participatory approach with the involvement of NGOs and self help groups has been mooted to ensure sustainability of inland fisheries.
Sources in the sector point out that though the number of inland fishers in Kerala is larger than those in the marine sector, they are scattered and poorly organised, unlike their counterparts in Odisha and West Bengal. The pollution and encroachment of waterbodies are two major issues that threaten sustainable inland fisheries in Kerala, says T.Peter, General Secretary, National Fishworkers Forum.
Demand on pokkali
Inland fishermen in the State have also been clamouring for protection of their traditional rights for fishing activities in pokkali fields where farmers rotate paddy cultivation and fish farming. They feel that they have been sidelined by farmers who reap more profits from shrimp farming than paddy.
The NFF is organising a consultative meeting at Kolkata to discuss the Centre’s guidelines. Mr. Peter said the response would be submitted to the government.