In response to the COVID pandemic and loss of livelihood to the fishers, the Centre has reduced the annual fishing ban period. The National Fishworkers’ Forum calls it "unscientific"
On the east coast of India, annual fishing ban comes into force from April 15 till June 14, whereas on the west coast it is from June 1 to July 31. Photo: Nidhi Jamwal
On May 25, the department of fisheries under the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying issued an order to reduce the 61-day annual fishing ban along the country’s coastline by two weeks, bringing it down to 47 days only. This, it said, was being done in response to the representation received by the ministry to amend the uniform fishing ban in the current year keeping in mind the coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) pandemic and loss of livelihood to the fishers.
As against the notified uniform annual fishing ban from April 15 till June 14 on the East Coast, and June 1 to July 31 on the West Coast every year, the recent order of the fisheries ministry has reduced this year’s ban period on the East Coast from April 15 to May 31 (both days included), and on the West Coast from June 15 to July 31 (both days included). “The traditional non-motorised units shall be exempted from this uniform fishing ban imposed in the Indian EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone — till 200 nautical miles from the coastline] beyond the territorial waters [12 nautical miles from the coastline]. The amendment in the period of uniform fishing ban is applicable only for the current year and would not set any precedent for future,” notes the May 25 order.
This gives an additional 14 days to the fishers to carry out fishing activities. But, the National Fishworkers’ Forum, a federation of state-level trade unions in India, is extremely unhappy with the tweaking of the annual fishing ban and has written to the fisheries ministry to revoke its recent order and reinstate the earlier ban notification of 61 days.
“… we welcomed the order of a uniform ban on fishing [61-day] by all fishing vessels in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone and had mentioned that ban has been formulated to help regenerate marine fisheries in the Indian waters where the monsoon season creates a conducive environment for fish spawning. Hence, it is crucial to protect the marine habitat during the reproduction period,” reads the Forum’s letter shot off to the Union fisheries minister, Giriraj Singh.
“COVID19 and the annual fishing ban are unrelated. The recent order of the fisheries ministry is unscientific,” T Peter, general secretary of the National Fishworkers’ Forum told Gaon Connection. “Because of the losses suffered due to the lockdown, fishers need a financial relief package. But rather than providing us monetary support, the Central government is escaping its responsibility by reducing the ban period,” he added.
Since March 25, the Forum has sent repeated memorandums to the fisheries ministry demanding a relief package of Rs 15,000 per month per fisher family for three months of COVID19 losses (March, April and May). “But, so far, we have received nothing. Whatever financial support has been declared, is helping aquaculture and fish farmers, and not the traditional marine and inland fishers,” complained Peter.
Reduction in the ban period isn’t detrimental to marine life alone, it also poses a huge risk to the lives of fishers, warns the Forum. According to it, there are “repeated incidents of the loss of boats and lives of fishworkers as a result of inclement weather during the monsoon months. This is the main reason why in addition to the ecological context, the ban also mentions ‘sea safety’.”
The southwest monsoon period (June to September) is about to begin and the monsoon is expected to arrive soon. Fishing in rough seas during the monsoon is a big risk.
The 61-day fishing ban is also a positive discrimination towards small-scale fishers as during this ban period, mechanised boats and trawlers are banned, but non-mechanised small-scale fishing boats continue to fish. “The period of 61 days when the mechanised boats do not operate, our community is safeguarded from the impacts of the destructive fishing gears”, claims the Forum. It also warns the East Coast of the country is yet to recover from the impacts of Cyclone Amphan. And, resuming fishing activities in such a scenario could prove dangerous.
In view of these factors, the Forum has demanded the May 25 order be scrapped and the 61-day fishing ban be reinstated. It agrees the lockdown has badly affected the fishing sector and fishers, but “tampering with the ban order will only work in the favour of the mechanised sector which overwhelmingly accesses the EEZ … the short-term and narrow interests of the mechanised fleet cannot take precedence over the small-scale motorised and nonmotorised sector, especially at a time when India is under lockdown and socio-economic distress is widespread.”
Instead of tweaking the fishing ban, the Forum has once again demanded the fisheries ministry to consult with the Union finance ministry and come out with a special financial package for the traditional fishers and fish workers.
Meanwhile, the Kerala government has decided not to follow the Centre’s recent change in the fishing ban period. It will follow its own annual monsoon fishing ban that kicks off from June 9 midnight, post which none of the trawlers would be permitted to cross the territorial waters.