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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Deep sea fish conservation must not go adrift



Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Current events of international importance( Fishing, EEZ, UNCLOS, Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna 1993 etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: economics of animal-rearing, Food processing and related industries in India- scope and significance, location, upstream and downstream requirements, supply chain management etc



  • The Supreme Court has given permission to fishermen using purse seine fishing gear to fish beyond territorial waters (12 nautical miles) and within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (200 nautical miles) of Tamil Nadu, but observing certain restrictions.




Territorial Sea:

  • The territorial waters extends seaward up to 12 nautical miles (nm) from its baselines.
  • The coastal states have sovereignty and jurisdiction over the territorial sea.
  • These rights extend not only on the surface but also to the seabed, subsoil, and even airspace.
  • But the coastal states’ rights are limited by the innocent passage through the territorial sea.


Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ):

  • Coastal State may claim an EEZ beyond and adjacent to its territorial sea that extends seaward up to 200 nm from its baselines.
  • Within its EEZ, a coastal state has:
    • Sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing natural resources, whether living or nonliving, of the seabed and subsoil.
  • Rights to carry out activities like the production of energy from the water, currents and wind.
  • EEZ only allows for the above-mentioned resource rights.
  • It does not give a coastal state the right to prohibit or limit freedom of navigation or overflight, subject to very limited exceptions.


Purse Seine Fishing:


  • A purse seine is made of a long wall of netting framed with floating and leadline and having purse rings hanging from the lower edge of the gear, through which runs a purse line made from steel wire or rope which allow the pursing of the net.
  • The technique has been widely deployed on India’s western coasts.


Issues with the court order:

  • The Court’s order against the banning of purse seine fishing by the Tamil Nadu Government seems to be more concerned about regulating fishing with administrative and transparency measures than about the conservation measures and obligations.
  • Purse seiners tend to overfish, unlike traditional fishermen using traditional fish gear, thus endangering the livelihood of the traditional fisher.


Conservation and conventions

  • Articles 56.1(a) and 56.1(b)(iii) of UNCLOS: coastal states have sovereign rights to ensure that the living and non-living resources of the EEZ are used, conserved and managed, and not subject to overexploitation.
    • Access to the zone by foreign fleets is solely within the coastal state’s discretion and subject to its laws and regulations.
  • Articles 61(1) and (2) of UNCLOS):To prevent overexploitation, coastal States must determine the total allowable catch (TAC) in the EEZ for the best scientific evidence available.
  • Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna 1993 (SBT):The crux of the SBT is TAC and distribution of allocations among the parties to the SBT
  • TAC and the catch quotas are aimed at putting sustainable use into practice among fishermen and maintaining maximum sustainable yield (MSY).


Issues with Regulation of fishing methods

  • International legal efforts are gradually moving in the direction of abandoning the use of large-scale pelagic nets.
  • The huge size of the purse seine nets (2,000 meters in length and 200 m in depth) allows maximum catch for the purse seiners, in turn leaving behind insufficient catch for traditional fishermen.
  • Several regional organizations that either prohibit the use of large drift nets or at least call for their prohibition.
    • Example: 1989 Tarawa Declaration of the South Pacific Forum:Convention for the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Drift Nets;restrict port access for drift net fishing vessels.
    • The United Nations General Assembly passed Resolutions 44/225 (1989) and 46/215 (1991) supported and strengthened this development.


Way Forward

  • The efforts to implement TAC and catch quota might face scientific uncertainty relating to safe limits to ensure MSY.
    • The established international environmental law practice is to lean on adopting a precautionary approach.
  • The conventions and the UN General Assembly resolutions are applicable to the state parties in the high seas.
    • These are relevant in terms of preventing overfishing in general and the conservation of fishery management in the EEZ as well.
  • The Court’s final judgment needs to look into non-selective fishing methods by purse seiners resulting in the by-catch of other marine living species (which could include, many a times, endangered species) — a potential ground for trade embargo.
  • A party under Article XX (b) of UN Resolution can take measures to protect human, animal or plant life provided it involves “conservation of exhaustible natural resources if such measures are made effective in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption.
  • In Shrimp/Turtle, the appellate body held that the U.S. measure — which prohibited imports of shrimp from any country that did not have a turtle-excluder fishing gear comparable to that of the United States — fit the Article XX(g): exception for the conservation of exhaustible natural resources.
  • Despite the best conservation measures and regulation of fishing methods adopted by the authorities, it will be a challenge in dealing with the limitless character of the seas which renders a common resource such as fish available for exploitation by all.
  • The theory of Garrett Hardin, ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, which says ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all’ should convince all fishermen, especially the purse seiners of Tamil Nadu, that they must cooperate in complying with conservation measures.



Q. The newly tri-nation partnership AUKUS is aimed at countering China’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Is it going to supersede the existing partnerships in the region? Discuss the strength and impact of AUKUS in the present scenario.(UPSC 2021) (250 WORDS, 15 MARKS)