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Mainstream, VOL LX No 4, New Delhi, January 15, 2022

Small Scale Traditional Fishermen Clash with Ring Seine Boats off Visakhapatnam Coast : A Deep Based Contradiction Erupts | Pradip Chatterjee

Friday 14 January 2022, by Pradip Chatterjee


On January 5 the Visakhapatnam coast witnessed bloody clashes between traditional small fishing communities and some fishers fishing with ring seines [1] made of smaller mesh size nets and equipped with sonar fish finders. The clashes left 5 fishing boats fully burnt and another 6 to 7 boats partially damaged. About 30 fishers were wounded. Some of them had to be rescued from the sea by the Coast Guard. The police arrested 60 to 70 people and lookout notices were issued against nearly 400 fishing community people.

The very next day trouble broke out between small-scale fish workers and big boat owners at a minor port of Navapara in the Una district of Gujarat. Boats coming from Maharashtra ambushed a small boat, hit it in an attempt to drown it, beat up five fishermen on the local boat with pipes and iron rods, they were somehow rescued and admitted in a local hospital for treatment.

The root of the conflict lies in the present situation of marine fisheries and the Government’s failure in taking competent administrative initiative to address the problems. The near shore waters of our country are overfished by mechanised fishing boats like trawlers and purse seiners. The share of small scale traditional fishing communities to marine catch has been experiencing a sharp fall from more than 85% of the total marine catch in 1960 to less than 18% of the same in 2019-20. The continued rapid decline in the share of the small-scale fishers is leading to social disharmony as the livelihood opportunities of small and traditional fishers are shrinking.

Some self-seeking fishers, in an attempt to grab as much fish as they could, have resorted to smaller versions of purse seine fishing called ring seines with smaller mesh size nets and equipped with sonar fish finders. Ring seine boats locate fish shoals by sonar fish finders and encircle it with the net at maximum speed to minimize fish escape. With smaller mesh size nets all the fish in the shoal including the juveniles are caught. The idea has been to catch as much fish as quickly as possible. This has been happening with the support and connivance of institutes like Central Marine Fishing Research Institute (CMFRI) and the Central and State Governments. The principles of sustainable fisheries and equitable distribution were openly violated. Natural fish stock was not allowed to regenerate itself. The result everywhere has been further unsustainable extraction of residual fish stock leaving almost no catch for the small scale traditional fishers in the near shore areas.

In Kerala introduction of ring seines resulted in sharp decline of their main catch Oil Sardines after 2012. In Goa the traditional fishing communities are in continuous conflict with the ring seiners. The bloody clashes at Visakhapatnam and Navapara are inevitable outcome of the same process. Fisheries Department fails to restrict and firmly deal with purse seine and other destructive fishing methods. They are allowed to fish in the near shore areas jeopardising the livelihood of small and traditional fishing communities engaged in sustainable fishing for subsistence.

Investment driven enhancement of productivity that cares little for environmental or ecological balance and edges out traditional small fishers and fish farmers promoting their replacement by entrepreneurs or sustainable production with protection and promotion of livelihood of small scale fishers and fish farmers — the fisheries sector is witnessing a policy conflict. In the days to come, we are likely to see more such violent eruptions.

The need of the hour is to adopt an ecology based human rights approach that conforms to the integrated nature of the natural resource base and ensures its sustainable utilisation by the natural resource based traditional communities so that the nature gets sufficient time and space to regenerate its resources. The small scale fishing communities are by far the largest primary non-consumptive stakeholders of our water bodies and fish resources as well as their natural custodians. Good fish needs good water.

Save Water, Save Fish, Save Fisher People.

(The writer is Convener of National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers and one of the leading members of Indian Community Activists Network)

[1The Ring Seine method of fishing that employs a surrounding net, called a seine; using the basic principle of encircling the shoal

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