Insights into Editorial: Is ‘deep sea fishing’ the silver bullet?
On September 8, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries University (TNFU) organised a one-day workshop in Chennai on deep sea fishing. The importance of deep sea fishing to fully exploit the fishery resources and increase the capture fish production was discussed. Proponents of deep sea fishing argue that the lure of better catch in far-off seas and avoiding the risks of cross-border fishing in Sri Lankan waters will ensure its success.
Earlier, The Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously passed an Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act on July 6 that declared the method of fishing by bottom trawling an offence. It is aimed at curbing local trawlers as well as trawlers from Tamil Nadu.
Deep sea fishing has been an integral part of the country’s Blue Revolution vision to exploit fishing resources to the maximum within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). One day workshop was organized on Deep sea fishing with an aim to promote deep sea fishing as an alternative to trawling in the Palk Bay.
What is the issue with Bottom trawling?
Bottom trawling, an ecologically destructive practice, involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the sea-floor, causing great depletion of aquatic resources. Bottom trawling captures juvenile fish, thus exhausting the ocean’s resources and affecting marine conservation efforts. This practice was started by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Palk Bay and actively pursued at the peak of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
The Palk Bay fishing conflict has figured prominently in high-level meetings between India and Sri Lanka. The Joint Working Group on Fisheries was formed by the two countries in November, 2016 to discuss the prolonged issue. But Sri Lankan fishermen wanted an immediate end to incursions by Indian trawlers, which resulted into amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act by Sri Lankan parliament. Also its navy has been vigilantly patrolling the International Maritime Boundary Line, ‘capturing’ Indian trawl boats and fishers.
India’s deep-sea fishing plan
The solution to bottom trawling issue lies in transition from trawling to deep-sea fishing.
- The activity of catching fish that live in the deep parts of the sea/ocean is called deep-sea fishing.
- The boats are designed in such a way that fishermen get access to the deeper parts of the ocean and fish species.
- It is practiced worldwide, especially in the coastal areas with no ecological damage.
- The depth of water should be at least 30 meters to be considered a deep sea fishing zone.
The deep sea fishing plan aims at promoting deep sea fishing as an alternative to trawling in the Palk Bay. Prime Minister formally launched the project to promote deep-sea fishing among Ramanathapuram fishermen.
- The Central and Tamil Nadu governments plan to provide 500 deep-sea fishing boats with long lines and gill nets this year as part of a plan to replace 2,000 trawlers in three years.
- The time period for this transition is three years (2017-2020).
- Each vessel will be fitted for tuna long-lining and/or gillnetting, and have a unit cost of ₹80 lakh.
- Of this unit cost, trawl owners have to only pay ₹8 lakh upfront and ₹16 lakh through a loan from the Pandyan Grama Bank. The balance ₹56 lakh will be a subsidy shared by the State and Central governments.
- The government plans for creating a fisheries industrial estate for which 500 acre land has been identified in Nagapatinam.
What are the obligations to beneficiaries under Deep Sea fishing plan?
The Deep Sea fishing plan is to remove as many trawl vessels from the Palk Bay as possible.
- Potential beneficiaries of the deep see fishing project should possess a registered, seaworthy trawl vessel of over 12m in length that must be scrapped or disposed of outside the Palk Bay.
- The disposed vessel should also have been physically verified.
- Equally important, new replacement tuna long liner boats cannot trawl or operate in the Palk Bay.
- The government is now creating a new deep sea fishing harbour at Mookaiyur, located just south of the Palk Bay in the Gulf of Mannar, where many of these vessels are likely to be berthed.
- Priority is to be given to owners who have had their boats apprehended or damaged in Sri Lanka.
- Beneficiaries are not allowed to sell their boats within five years of obtaining them.
What are the concerns raised by many?
- There is a need of clarity on sufficient stocks of fish in the adjacent waters of the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar to make deep sea fishing economically viable for a large and new fleet of vessels
- The Indian government report of the Working Group for Revalidating the Potential of Fishery Resources in the Indian EEZ suggests that oceanic regions have a maximum potential yield of 208,000 tonnes. However, it does not state where the remaining oceanic stocks exist.
- Moreover, the report warns that oceanic resources are transboundary and hence are targeted by a number of other countries too.
- Limited skills of fishermen and their interest for deep sea fishing is a cause of concern.
- Doubts about the high operational costs of deep sea fishing and the loan repayment schedule imposed by the Bank.
The Need of the hour
Whether deep sea fishing will reduce the Palk Bay fishing conflict depends entirely on the downsizing of the existing trawl fleet.
- Rules on paper should be followed strictly.
- The government will have to ensure that remaining vessels are not upgraded in size or engine horsepower, as many trawl owners in the Palk Bay have been increasing their engine capacities secretly, well beyond legal limits.
- The Tamil Nadu Fisheries Department should increase its capacity to monitor, control and carry out surveillance (MCS) of the process of decommissioning.
The authorities have taken note of training needs and are setting up special facilities in collaboration with the TNFU and the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training.
The Palk Bay conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach. The government should involve in developing a comprehensive fisheries policy to benefit all stake holders in fisheries.
Various other solutions such as buy-backs, alternative livelihoods and skill development need to be rolled out with a simultaneous focus on a strong MCS system.