In troubled waters



A proposed bill which seeks to impose strict controls on deep sea fishing is likely to adversely affect the fishing sector in all coastal states. The draft of the Central legislation, Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, is ready and it is likely to be introduced in the next session of parliament for consideration and passage. The bill’s main aim is to improve coastal security in view of the perceived threats from terrorists who may launch operations from the sea as in the case of the Mumbai attack last year. But its provisions will make fishing a risky and difficult task and affect the livelihood of tens of thousands of fishermen. The bill prescribes that any vessel that goes out into the deep sea for fishing should have a permit. It prescribes stringent punishment for fishermen who venture into the sea without a permit, and confiscation of the vessel and the catch.

Both mechanised boats and ordinary vessels will come under the purview of the law and will have to operate with permits. Many ordinary fishermen do not know the boundaries of the near coast fishing area and would unknowingly move into prohibited waters, inviting punishment. The fact that violations will be dealt with by security personnel and not by fishing industry officials will also cause anxiety for the fishermen. As it is, fishermen have to register their vessels and an additional permit will make things more difficult. Though the case for permits for mechanised boats may not be disputed, making it compulsory even for small, ordinary vessels is unreasonable.

Foreign vessels are not allowed to fish in India’s deep sea waters, though illegal fishing is not uncommon. The provisions of the bill give the impression that they can fish in Indian waters if they secure a permit. This will pose a serious threat to India’s fishing industry. The fishing sector is riddled with many problems like fall in exports, and decline in catch because of climate change and other reasons. Poor fishermen, who constitute the majority of those engaged in the profession, find it difficult to compete with mechanised boats. The new restrictions will worsen their plight. Ensuring the security of the coastal areas is important and it is necessary to take precautionary measures and keep a vigil. But the provisions of the bill, which make it difficult for many fishermen to continue with their traditional profession, need to be reviewed.

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