For the first time in India, the Kerala government has imposed ‘minimum legal size’ (MLS) restrictions on fishing of a broad range of commonly caught marine species.
Setting of MLS is a major tool in fisheries management, mainly in Europe and Australia, to protect fish from being caught until they have spawned. The MLS curbs are being imposed following increased catch, in the recent years, of juvenile fish to be used as raw material by fishmeal plants, mostly based in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The catch of juveniles, which shrinks the catch for human consumption, has been found to be among the reasons for the recent fish famine along the Kerala coast.
The State government, on a recommendation by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute and lobbying by fish workers’ unions issued an order on May 27 limiting the size of 44 fish. These include five types of tuna, squid, king fish, king seer, and horse mackerel. Hefty fines will be imposed on the boats and ‘valloms’ that catch juveniles of these notified fish types.
Earlier, in 2015, the government had notified the minimum sizes for 14 varieties of fish that could be caught. But this had little effect on the catch of juveniles of small pelagic fish, though the Marine Enforcement Wing detained several boats found fishing the under-size fish.
44 more species
It is against this backdrop that the government added 44 more species to the regulated list. CMFRI scientists had in 2014 recommended MLS curbs on 58 fish. The ban is expected to ensure that fish are protected long enough to reproduce so that there will be enough young ones to replenish fishery each season.
Charles George, president of the Kerala Matsyathozhilali Aikyavedi, hailing the MLS curbs, said that they were a major step in the long-term sustainability of Kerala’s fisheries resources. “To make the ban more effective,” he told The Hindu , “both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka should be encouraged to pass MLS orders.”
He said the State Fisheries Minister had agreed to talk to her Tamil Nadu and Karnataka counterparts.