Supreme Court reserves order on interim plea on purse seine fishing

The apex court is 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.

January 18, 2023 06:43 pm | Updated January 19, 2023 01:07 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Representational image

Representational image

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order on an interim plea by fishermen using purse seine nets to be allowed to operate in waters beyond the 12-nautical-mile limit off Tamil Nadu’s coast.

Appearing before a Bench of Justices A.S. Bopanna and Sudhanshu Dhulia, Tamil Nadu, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, disagreed with the Centre’s point of view, based on an expert committee’s report, that there was no harm in regulated purse seine fishing beyond the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu.

Mr. Rohatgi said the State would certainly refuse to “police” the “purse-seiners”, saying it would not put the livelihood of its traditional fishermen in jeopardy.

“The mouth of the 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,” he argued.

“You are making this out to be as if it is a rich versus poor issue,” Justice Dhulia told Mr. Rohatgi.

“It certainly is,” the senior lawyer said, urging the court not to give any interim relief to the purse seine fishermen.

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

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for purse seine fishermen, said there had been no prohibition on purse seine fishermen operating beyond territorial waters for the past 30 years. Now, suddenly, the State had become worried about traditional fishermen, he said.

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

He said 17 lakh fishermen used 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 had changed for the better, and could be used to monitor fishermen and check whether they operated beyond the 12-nautical-mile limit, he said.

He 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 is 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.

“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 said.

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