The sinking of the Pakistani ‘terror’ boat by the Indian Coast Guard last week was bound to lead to some kind of reaction from Pakistan — and it happened fast. On Monday, the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency arrested 12 Indian fishermen and captured two fishing boats near the International Maritime Boundary off the Gujarat coast. For years, fishermen have been caught in the web of international politics, be it on the western or the southern coasts. India’s domestic politics has also often been affected by such arrests and their release has been touted as ‘soft power’ politics. For example, ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India in 2014, the country released 151 fishermen and 57 boats.
Despite such regular arrests — which have almost become a seasonal event, coinciding with the fishing activities — there is no data on how many fishing workers are in jails in Pakistan. The rough figures are about 475 (December 31) Indian fishermen were in Pakistani jails and 130 Pakistanis in Indian jails. Fishermen are forced to go into foreign territory for several reasons: Illiterate crews don’t know how to read latitudes and longitudes, historical reasons (for centuries, fishermen from ports of what is now Gujarat headed into the Indus estuary in search of the best pomfret and red snapper but that territory is now with Pakistan) and the declining fish catch along the Indian coast thanks to climate change and over-fishing by mechanised vessels push artisanal fishermen into uncharted waters. The preliminary findings of the 2013 National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture on fish resources indicate that there is a change in the marine life pattern in the coastal waters.
The only way to ensure that fishermen don’t become ‘collateral damage’ in this political-strategic war is to demarcate the maritime boundaries and have very clear guidelines for setting up a monitoring, control and surveillance mechanism, an issue that the latest Report of the Expert Committee Constituted for Comprehensive Review of the Deep Sea Fishing Policy and Guidelines of the ministry of agriculture suggests.