Rahul Gandhi’s ‘war over sea’, a misplaced adventure?

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is reportedly planning an outreach programme in Chavakkad in Thrissur district next week to take up the cause of traditional fishermen. The most pressing issue there is described as the woes of fishermen resulting from the Central Government’s decision to impose ban on fishing for 61 days. He is ill-advised to take up this issue as a shorter ban on fishing is not actually in the interests of traditional fishermen.

It may be recalled that the traditional fishermen had launched a series of agitations for three-month ban on bottom trawling during monsoon led by persons like Fr. Thomas Kocheri and Sr. Philomin Mary in the eighties. The mechanised boat owners were strongly opposed to the ban though it was aimed at conservation of fish resources.

Fishermen's agitation

Fishermen blocking the highway at Alappuzha in 1985 demanding, among other things, ban on trawling.      Photo: Roy Mathew

Congress leader K. Karunakaran was not in favour of the ban and had used police to suppress the agitation when he was the Chief Minister. However, even Congress supporters in the Dheevara Sabha were forced to take a stand in favour of the ban. The agitation led to appointment of various committees to study the issue. Finally, the government decided to have a shorter ban of about 45 days though this was not a scientifically sound decision. Expert committees had called for a longer ban during monsoon to cover the entire breeding season of fishes.

What has changed between now and then is that more of the traditional fishermen have become owners or workers of mechanized fishing boats. The same forces which opposed the ban for quick returns and lobbied with Karunakaran are now behind Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s move. The only difference is that more ‘traditional fishermen’ are now with them. However, this assessment would depend on whether someone is ‘traditional’ by birth or by use of the fishing gears.

Scientifically, the only thing that has changed is confirmation of the fact that all (economically valuable) fishes do not breed during monsoon. Experts in the eighties have either discounted this fact or did not have adequate data to come to a conclusion. This may necessitate deeper look into the recommendation and possibly modification of the ban on a regional basis. More important may be the need to declare marine reserves like wildlife sanctuaries.

A shorter ban will not fully serve the purpose and a two month ban is reasonable considering all the factors. However, stricter enforcement of ban on net types and mesh sizes will be more crucial to conservation of marine resources. Fishlings ought to be allowed to grow to certain sizes before they are harvested.

Related Report:

After land, Rahul to wage war over sea

2 thoughts on “Rahul Gandhi’s ‘war over sea’, a misplaced adventure?

  1. The regulations introduced by the government involve a total ban on fishing by all types of craft and not an extension of the trawling ban.
    If the govt’s intention was the conserve marine resources, it should not permit foreign vessels to plunder the country’s territorial waters.
    It is but natural that coastal communities perceive a threat to their livelihood when what is denied to them becomes a privilege for others. On top of all that is the GO making it mandatory for them to carry passports on fishing trips.

    • A correction has been made to the write-up, changing the word ‘trawling’ to ‘fishing’.

      Fishing by traditional fishermen has become more efficient with use of outboard engines and better nets. So, nothing wrong in the ban covering such crafts also for better conservation. Operation of foreign fishing vessels should indeed be strictly regulated. They should be granted permits only if Indian fishermen lacks capacity for optimum exploitation of fish resources. Carrying of passports may help fishermen who accidentally or deliberately cross the territorial waters. The GO may have become essential because of the security environment following the terrorist attack in Mumbai.

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