Tension is brewing in the coastal areas of Kerala and neighboring states over an expert committee report that reviewed the country's marine policy and suggested fresh guidelines for deep sea fishing aimed at achieving blue revolution.
Reacting to the report, angry fishermen say more than doing any good it would harm them. With dwindling catch, increasing operational expenses and umpteen number of players, they say B Meena Kumari's report is the last straw on their back. They had observed a state-wide shutdown last month and are planning protests across the nation.
Fishermen's organisations say it was a ploy to sell the country's fisheries' wealth to big foreign trawlers and the report was prepared without taking the views of the real stakeholders into account. They say allowing large vessels into the deep fishing territory of local fishermen will affect their livelihood.
"Wallowing in penury, 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 Thiruvananthapuram.
Like protests against reports by Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan on saving the ecology of Western Ghats, they are planning a countrywide movement involving 9 coastal states and 4 Union Territories.
After China, India is the second largest producer of fish in the world with 14 million people involved and its production accounts about 6-8% of the total production.
However, experts say India's production was not commensurate with number of persons engaged in the sector due to use of old techniques. So a seven-member panel was constituted under Kumari, deputy director general of fisheries, during the last UPA regime.
"It is a death knell for traditional fishermen. One of the worst recommendations is the to create a buffer zone between near-shore and offshore (water between 200m and 500m depth) along the coast and to regulate 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 native fishermen achieve high capability is a big humbug, she said.
The expert panel also found that waters beyond 500m are not optimally exploited and there is a considerable scope for expansion mainly for fish like tuna and squid which are in great demand.
"If you increase number of large vessels here it will be a blatant violation and wealth will shrink. It is a big irony when countries like China and Japan are out to expand their marine zone and we are opening our gates for others," said Peter.
The state government has supported the fishermen's stand and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had said in Parliament last week that after farmers now the Modi government was planning to target fishermen.
"We will protect the interest of fishermen," said chief minister Oommen Chandy opposing the recommendations of the report.
The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, a premier government body, has also picked holes in the report saying traditional fishermen were more successful than the foreign vessels operating under the letter of permit scheme.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently called for a blue revolution and optimum use of country's sea wealth. Fishermen say instead of equipping traditional ones with modern techniques, inviting outsiders would do more harm.