The National Fishworkers’ Forum has opposed the Centre’s move to grant permits to deep sea fishing vessels, which would potentially facilitate entry of foreign operators at the cost of the livelihood of the native fisherfolk.
Taking an exception to the move, NFF leaders M. Ilango, Narendra Patil and T. Peter said the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MOA) public notice calling for 270 more deep sea fishing vessels to be provided with letter of permit (LOP) in Indian seas to engage in operations 12 nautical miles off shore seemed to be an “arbitrary decision of the MOA violating the suggestions made by Dr. Meenakumari Committee.”
Demanding withdrawal of the LOP for new vessels, the NFF said it would otherwise be forced to go on a nationwide protest, fishing bandh and demonstration in New Delhi during the Budget session.
The Ministry’s notice of November 28 invited companies and Indian entrepreneurs to apply for permission to fish in the EEZ that is beyond the territorial waters extending to 12 nautical miles. According to the NFF, this would open up doors to even foreign vessels under joint venture with 51 per cent equity of the Indian company, where even a vessel acquired against deferred payment would be considered as a fully paid one.
The NFF pointed out that apart from the fact that a company could get an LOP for up to four such vessels, the Ministry notice also sanctioned pelagic / midwater trawling.
Variance with recommendations
Though the Ministry’s decision was supposed to be based on the report of Dr. Meenakumari committee, which was constituted to review the deep sea fishing policy, certain provisions, as put forward in the government notice, were at variance with the recommendations, Mr. Ilango said.
The committee claims that there is a potential to catch fish in sea with a depth of 500 m and above and so suggests providing permission for 270 new vessels.
The committee also proposes having foreign fishermen until the Indian institutions can train the Indian fishermen to operate and fish in such vessels.
However, while the Meenakumari committee prescribes fishing in depths beyond 500 m, the public notice of MOA mentions the fishing ground as sea beyond 12 nautical miles, the NFF contended.
Moreover, in many places the depth of the sea need not be above 500 m.
“While we question the grounds of information about the fish resource available at such depth, the committee itself says that the depth below 200 m is heavily exploited and the fishers are already moving into depth of 200 to 500 m,” Mr. Ilango said.
Detrimental to tradional fishermen
The NFF stated that it had repeatedly mentioned that the idea of opening up Indian seas is dangerous and detrimental to the fishing of Indian traditional fishers, as the fish resource is heavily depleted due to the non-ecological fishing done by these vessels.
Hence further opening up the sea for more vessels to fish will only be construed as part of the “global ocean grabbing conspiracy”, the NFF said.
It urged the Union government to seriously consider the recommendations of the Murari Committee and not extend the LOP to the existing deep sea fishing vessels, and encourage Indian fishermen with less than 20 m sized boats to fish in depths beyond 200 m by providing them LOP, financial support and technical expertise.