Embroiled in a sea of deep controversy

By: Staff Reporter

New Delhi, Feb 21 (G’nY News Service): Ripped apart by the fishermen forums and the media, mostly in Kerala, and touted as the most controversial report of the decade, the protest against Dr. B. Meenakumari’s ‘Deep sea fishing policy and guidelines’ draft is all set to overturn the ‘blue revolution’ agenda of the new government. Of the many alleged shortfalls of the draft report, which was put out in the public domain by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries on 20th August 2014 for comments, the most pertinent alludes to livelihood. The seven member committee is headed by Dr. B. Meenakumari, DDG (Fisheries), Indian Council of Agricultural Research submitted the draft report last year.However, careful reading of the draft report reveals that most of what is being said may be at cross-purposes, with an agenda to block fisheries development and long-term sustainability efforts of the well-meaning scientists of the nation. Trade unions to media houses and from NGOs to political parties are bending the report to create an issue based on misinterpretation of the report.

The Expert Committee is of the opinion that the production from the near shore waters to a depth of 200 m has reached a plateau due to over-exploitation by local fishermen. They thus feel that “there is no scope for expansion of fishing effort in this zone”. Beyond 200 m and until the 500 m depth, the Expert Committee recommends a buffer zone“ to augment the resources in near shore waters and off shore areas which are targeted by small boat owners which could subsequently be utilized for diversifying the existing fishing fleets for targeting resources such as squids etc. and reducing pressure on near shore waters”. This could also be interpreted as a buffer to wasted fishing effort based on the precautionary approach practised worldwide. Opposed to agriculture, where the productivity of a piece of land may be physically measured, fishing in oceanic waters has a higher risk component, which is why applying a precautionary approach principle is prudent. Nowhere the draft report calls for a ban for fishing activities in this zone. If scientists are highlighting the sustainability of resources and harking augmentation of commercially viable species such as squids, how does it affect livelihood detrimentally? In addition the Expert Committee also spoke about “waters beyond 500 meter depth in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are not optimally exploited and with deep sea fishing vessels (DSFVs) there is considerable scope of expansion, mainly for tuna and tuna-like species”. The draft report also added that “resource-specific fishing vessels may be introduced in this area” and went on to specify the vessels.

Ocean fishing

(Photo courtesy: Gn’Y photo bank)

The fishermen organisations are of the view that proposing DSFVs will affect their livelihood as they are using the 200m to 500 m depth as regular fishing grounds with small motorised boats especially from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka. A consultant for the Fisheries Project of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Dr. V. Sampath opines the “draft report failed to build confidence among the traditional and small scale fishing community”. The fishermen community perhaps could demand for greater hand-holding from the government in order to upgrade their boats rather than agitate about the misinterpreted buffer zone. With poor deep sea vessels that lack storage and on-board processing facilities, the fishermen would be in reality wasting precious oceanic resources as spoilt catch. Better insurance regimes and loans could add the much-needed fillip to this floundering and extremely unorganised sector. Our attempt to seek a comment from senior officials in the Union Fisheries Department drew a naught. However, it is perhaps time that the ongoing tussle between the recommendations of the Expert Committee needs to be put to rest and the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries of the Ministry urgently needs to come out in defence of its appointed scientists and explain to public at large that this is only a draft report and suitable suggestions will be incorporated in the final policy guidelines.

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