Government risking lives of fishermen by letting them venture into rough seas?

National Fishworkers Forum asks Fisheries Minister Giriraj Singh to revoke the order reducing the uniform fishing ban to 47 days.

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The  National Fishworkers Forum has written to Giriraj Singh, Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, asking him to revoke the order which reduces the uniform fishing ban from 61 days to 47 days. The latest order, issued by the Department of Fisheries, will now override the previous order issued on March 20. 

However the National Fishworkers Forum has said that this order must be revoked, and the earlier order where the ban was for 61 days be honoured. They want this for two simple reasons. This is the breeding season and any disturbances in that cycle will harm the fishing industry for years to come, and the seas are too rough and it is dangerous to go out to fish monsoon months.

The fishermen who work on small and medium boats are the worse hit. Almost all of them have been already grounded when the sudden national lockdown was announced due to Coronavirus spread, and have had almost no financial support. Those registered can claim an allowance when the annual ban is in place, but now, if the ban is lifted too early, they will not get that also, explained sources in the NFF.

Fishing is now banned only for 47 days, along India’s East Coast from April 15 to May 31, and along the West Coast from June 15 to July 31. After that the fishermen will have to venture out to earn their wages. 

“The government perhaps wants to avoid paying the allowance. And fishermen will end up risking  their lives by going out into the sea now,” said NFF General Secretary T Peter who is a co signatory on the letter to the Union Minister. The ministry’s revised order has reduced the uniform ban on fishing, by all fishing vessels in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), beyond territorial waters on the East Coast including Andaman, & Nicobar Islands, and West Coast including Lakshadweep Islands. 

The ban aims a “effective management of fishery resources” and ensure “sea safety.” said NFF who on April 2, had written to the the Ministry that they “welcomed the order of a uniform ban on fishing 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.”

Reducing the days when fishing is banned will be counterproductive to the original plan, say NFF. “It is crucial to protect the marine habitat during the reproduction period. Those engaged in sustainable fishing need to be supported,” said Peter. 

The NFF has said that the uniform ban period of 61 days was implemented with consultation between central and state governments in 2015. “This  uniformity came after many decades of conflicts, especially between sectors and between states, and with demands made multiple times by the NFF,” it stated. According to the NFF’s letter to the minister, the current ban period upholds the spirit of a “Supreme Court interim order in the case of ‘Goa Environment Federation versus State of Goa and Others’ in 2005 which imposed a 67 day ban period ‘keeping in view the prime need to preserve the natural fishing resources as also to protect the traditional fishermen.”

T Peter explained that during these months the seas are rough and can put the boats and of the fishermen on board at great risk. The weather remains cloudy and windy even if it is not raining that instant, and the conditions can change suddenly. “There have been many 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’,” stated NFF.

The NFF said  that the long ban period is a positive move that helps the small scale fisheries, “as in those 61 days the mechanised boats do not operate, our community is safeguarded from the impacts of the destructive fishing gears. Trawlers can destroy the marine environment and greatly disturb the spawning cycle,” explained T Peter.

Then there is the lesser known fact that it is in these non-fishing months that the seasonal fishworkers return home to their native states. However, due to Covid-19 pandemic, a ban had started suddenly with the lockdown and had estranged workers in Gujarat and Maharashtra on the West coast. “If the ban is ended earlier in the East coast it will further harm the fishworkers and make them vulnerable to exploitation,” said T Peter explaining the NFF’s objections. 

The Eastern Coast too is yet to recover from the damage caused by Cyclone Amphan, and if the ban is shortened it risks the lives of fishworkers who will be forced to head out into the sea. The NFF has demanded that this order be scrapped and that the fishing ban period revert to the standard 61-day period. 

“The lockdown has impacted the fishing sector severely. However, tampering with the ban order will only work in the favour of the mechanised sector and those who own fish farms,” said the NFF leadership.

They have also warned of the “worsened wind and wave conditions, including the increasing regularity of cyclones, during the monsoon period, the reduction of the ban period puts migrant workers on the fishing boats at immense risk.”  In the wake of the Cyclone Amphan the NFF says it  is “highly irresponsible to push workers out to sea to work during this period”. They add that the Monsoon is already in its onset stages “with a depression forming in the Arabian Sea.”



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