The Supreme Court interim order allowing purse seine fishing on the Tam – il Nadu coast albeit with stringent regulations has caused mixed reactions from the fish – ing community. Some fisherfolk say the order comes in time (fishing sea – son in TN begins in February) as their livelihood depends on this method, considered by some as the most effi – cient way of catching smaller shoaling fish.
Traditional country boat fisher – men though are not happy as they have been protesting against the practice for long, saying it results in declining stocks of small fish. Ecologists have been opposing purse seine fishing, believed to be among the less sustain – a b l e m e t h o d s a s i t t e n d s to snare entire shoals of fish. Hearing applications filed by TN fishermen associations challenging the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Maritime Fishing Regulations, 1983, that banned fishing vessels from purse seining or pair trawling, the SC passed the interim order allowing the method beyond the territorial waters of the state but within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with certain conditions.
TN’s territorial waters end at 12 nautical miles and the EEZ waters extend after that to 200 nauti – cal miles. The ban on purse seine fishing within 12 nautical miles is still in effect, says a fisheries department official from Chennai. “None of the vessels in TN has been registered as purse seine boats. Fishermen go purse seine fishing using boats regis – tered as trawlers.” The problem, however, is ensuring the regulations are implemented. The Fisheries Department has no man – power or machinery to enforce the existing Marine Fisheries Act’s pro – vision, say fishermen. “The fisheries department struggles to enforce any law. The department depends on the Indian Coast Guard for enforcement but there are too many fishermen and fishing activities for them to monitor.
It will be almost impossible for them to ensure purse seine fishers abide by the SC rules,” says T Karunamoorthy, secretary of the fish workers associ – ation in Ramanathapuram. “Country boat fishermen also do purse seine fishing illegally within territorial waters and officials are not able to curb it. Several species have dwindled near the coast due to this harmful fishing practice.” Karunamoorthy and several other fishermen leaders are preparing for a state-wide agitation against the order. “The state government should counter this order through legal measures.” R Arulpragasam, former village panchayat president of Devanampat – tinam, says the livelihoods of thou – sands of fishermen depend on purse seine fishing. “This practice is not banned in Kerala or Karnataka.
People oppose it without understanding the tech – nique. The fish in the pelagic zone is caught using purse seine nets. The catch is of high quality and fetches a good price in local and international markets,” says Arulpragasam. “Development policies by the In – dian fisheries department are produc – tion-intensive and export-oriented. They have been this way since Inde – pendence. It has been termed the Blue Revolution,” says Jones T Spartegus, social scientist and fisheries policy analyst from Tuticorin. “Destructive gear like purse seine and trawl nets were not invented by fishers but are products of state-sub – sided schemes. The verdict should have served as a solution to resolve the fishery resources conflict among fisherfolk.
Instead, it will increase it.” Spartegus says he believes it will result in fisherfolk adopting more resource-exploitative destructive gear, which will eventually lead to a scarcity of fish. “Also, while the order allows the state government to protect its territorial waters, it gives a free hand to the Union government to pro – mote the fishers to carry out destruc – tive fishing at the EEZ for export revenue,” says Spartegus. “Marine resources will be depleted at the EEZ. Fishermen who do not venture beyond TN’s territorial wa – ters will not get their regular catch,” says a scientist from the Central ma – rine fisheries research institute. R M P Rajendran, Nagapattinam district president of the Indian Na – tional Fishermen Association, has welcomed the order.
“The fisheries department needs to convene an ex – pert committee meeting to formulate rules for the fishing community based on the orders,” says Rajendran. A Thajudeen, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu fishermen feder – ation from Mallipattinam in Thanja – vur, says his concern is that fisher – men using country boats will suffer. “Opening up the waters to purse seine fishing is going to mean in – creased catch, which can result in a price fall. That will crush country boat fishermen who bring in small amounts of fish to the shore. The state government needs to establish cold storage facilities to store huge catches to avert a fall in price,” says Thajudeen. Trawl boat owners though are staying silent. “We don’t want to com – ment because then we will get caught out for pair-trawling, which is still illegal,” says a boat owner.