19th April – Trawling for a sustainable livelihood

For a country which is home to 10 per cent of the world’s total biodiversity of fish, one which happens to be the world’s second largest producer of fish, has over 1.5 crore people directly dependent on it for survival and gets more than 5 per cent of its GDP and over 10 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings by exporting fish and marine products, fishermen and fisheries get little to no attention from either policy makers or the political class.

Trawling sustainable livelihood


Potential for fisheries –
India is fantastically well-endowed as far as fisheries is concerned. It has over 8,118 km of coastline, an exclusive marine economic zone of 2.2 million sq km, nearly 2 lakh km of rivers and canals and more that 5 million hectares of reservoirs and ponds.

Department of Fisheries – A reality check –
In a report tabled in Parliament last year by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on inland fisheries and aquaculture (inland fishery accounts for about 65 per cent of India’s total fish production), the committee observed that despite being funded for assessment and development of water bodies, the department of fisheries had not reported any actual work carried out and did not even have an estimate for the number of water bodies where aquaculture activities could be carried out.

Fishermen concerns –
Their list of woes range from the rising cost of diesel to poaching by foreign trawlers to lack of market access and a minimum support price for fish to lack of access to capital and absence of cold storage and processing infrastructure which impacts their earnings directly. Over and above that is periodic, catastrophic losses inflicted by cyclones, and routine harassment by authorities.
To top it all, fishermen on both coasts face the threat of detention by foreign powers — Sri Lanka in the Bay of Bengal and Pakistan in the Gulf of Kutch.
Coastal fishermen, who rely on small country craft and catamarans, on their part, say that mechanised trawlers and indiscriminate fishing, as well as pollution and climate change are destroying their livelihoods.
To top it all, even the meagre subsidies that they get currently are under threat, with both the US and Australia putting pressure to do away with the ‘special and differentiated treatment that India currently enjoys as a developing economy and to cap its subsidies to fisherfolk on a specific and individual basis.
Phytosanitary, as well as tariff barriers are erected by a number of competing major economies with a significant fisheries sector. For instance, India’s shrimp exports have been hit hard by bans imposed by the EU and the US for alleged antibiotic presence.

Way forward –
It is high time that we took a more focused approach to this sector which contributes a tenth of our total GDP.
A focused thrust on developing inland fisheries and protecting and developing our marine fisheries has the potential to have a transformative impact on coastal and rural economies and livelihoods.
India also needs to up its game to protect its ₹45,000 crore plus export market.

Conclusion –
Both leaders of the ruling party and the opposition have promised to create a separate ministry for fisheries (currently, it is a department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare). One could argue that a mere ministry does not mean that the target sector will actually benefit (just look at agriculture!) but at least it will be a start.

SourceThe Hindu Business Line

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