Tension is brewing along coastal Kerala and neighbouring states over an expert committee report that reviewed the country’s marine policy and suggested fresh guidelines for deep-sea fishing aimed at achieving a blue revolution.
But angry fishermen say that the recommendations in the report would only end up harming them. With dwindling catch, rising operational cost and too many players in the business, they say the B Meena Kumari report has come as the last straw. They had observed a statewide shutdown last month and are now planning a countrywide protest.
India is the second largest producer of fish in the world (involving 14 m people) after China and its production accounts for about 6-8 % of the total catch. However, experts say that due to outdated techniques India’s output was not commensurate with the number of people engaged in the sector. So a seven-member panel was set up under B Meena Kumari, deputy director general of fisheries, during the last UPA regime.
“If the government implements it, there will be many starvation deaths in coastal areas,” said Johnson Peter, a fisherman in Poonthura, on the outskirts of the capital. Like the protest to save the Western Ghats ecology, the fishermen are planning a countrywide agitation involving nine coastal states and four Union Territories.
“It is a death knell for traditional fishermen. One of the worst recommendations is the creation of a buffer zone between near-shore and offshore (waters between 200 m and 500 m depth) along the coast and regulating fishing there. Sun-lit areas are the best habitat for fish and traditional fishermen mainly depend on this,” said Magline Peter, secretary of Kerala Independent Fish Workers’ Forum. Opening offshore regions to foreign and joint venture companies until the native fishermen achieve high capability is a big humbug, she said.
Interestingly the state government has supported the fishermen and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had said in Parliament recently that after famers now Modi government was planning to target fishermen. “We will protect the interest of fishermen,” said Chief Minister Oommen Chandy opposing the recommendations of the Meena Kumari report.