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Supreme Court allows purse seine fishing twice a week outside Tamil Nadu's territorial waters

The apex court has imposed stringent conditions to regulate the extent of purse seine fishing outside the 12-nautical-mile limit off Tamil Nadu.

January 24, 2023 11:19 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:20 am IST - NEW DELHI

Tamil Nadu had referred to a 1993 decision of the Supreme Court, which had upheld the ban on purse seine fishing as it affected the livelihood of traditional fishermen. File

Tamil Nadu had referred to a 1993 decision of the Supreme Court, which had upheld the ban on purse seine fishing as it affected the livelihood of traditional fishermen. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, allowed purse seine fishing outside the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu.

"We have allowed this because we thought everybody should survive, that's all," Justice A.S. Bopanna, who headed the Bench, orally remarked after pronouncing the order in court.

The court has imposed stringent conditions to regulate the extent of purse seine fishing outside the 12-nautical-mile limit off Tamil Nadu.

For one, purse seine fishing would be allowed only twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, that too between 8 am and 6 pm the same day.

One of the lawyers objected that the timings may vary owing to sea conditions and weather. The boats may return late and docking time would cross the 8 pm mark.

"First of all, we are allowing you to do this (purse seine fishing) on the basic principle of 'living and letting live'... Come back faster," the court said.

The Bench said only vessels registered under the marine fishing regulation law would be allowed to do purse seine fishing.

Tracking devices should be installed in these boats. The court has also prescribed a colour code for them. The fishing crew need to mandatorily carry identity cards.

Tamil Nadu’s objection

Tamil Nadu had vehemently objected to purse seine fishing, even beyond the 12 nautical mile border.

"The mouth of purse seine net is one hectare and it would drag out anything and everything from the bowels of the sea. I cannot go by the Centre's suggestion to police, monitor or manage purse seine fishing. The livelihood of small fishermen operating within the territorial waters would be put at risk," the State, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and advocate D. Kumanan, had argued.

The State had referred to a 1993 decision of the Supreme Court in State of Kerala versus Joseph Antony, which had upheld the ban on purse seine fishing beyond the territorial waters as it affected the livelihood of traditional fishermen.

One of the primary ecological arguments against purse seine nets is that they tend to draw only the targetted fish but also at-risk varieties, including turtles.

It is prohibited by Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands in their respective territorial waters of up to 12 nautical miles.

States like Gujarat, Andhra, Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal have not imposed any such ban on purse seine fishing. Maharashtra has issued certain orders for regulation of purse seine fishing in its territorial waters.

The Fisheries Department of the Union government had recommended the lifting of the ban on purse seine fishing in a report submitted by an expert committee on November 15.

The expert panel had refused to accept that purse seine fishing caused "serious resource depletion". It had recommended purse-seiners to fish territorial waters and the Indian Exclusive Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) subject to certain conditions.

The Union government had sought six months to prepare a uniform national plan for purse seine fishing.

‘No prohibition’

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for purse seine fishermen, had argued that there had not been any prohibition on purse seine fishermen operating beyond territorial waters for the past 30 years.

Mr. Sankaranarayanan had said the fishing season would end by the last week of February, and some relief from the court was urgently needed.

He had said 17 lakh fishermen use purse seine nets. They were not "affluent", but small fishermen who had worked their way up the pecking order in the fishing community. Mr. Sankaranarayanan said purse seine fishing was introduced in 1954. Technology has changed for the better and could be used to monitor fishermen and keep a check on whether they operate beyond the 12 nautical mile limit.

"The fishing season for south Tamil Nadu started two weeks ago and will go on for another four weeks. The season for north Tamil Nadu will start in two weeks. This time is crucial," Mr. Sankaranarayanan had said.

He had said the State did not have any jurisdiction outside the nautical limit of its territorial waters and cannot restrict them from fishing there.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Fishermen Care to stay a Tamil Nadu government order of February 17, 2020 which had banned the large nets used to catch schools of fish in the deep waters of the sea.

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