In a bid to safeguard fingerlings, fish species and increase their population, all purse seine nets — large fishing nets used to catch fish in bulk — were banned across Maharashtra from January 1, said state government officials. However, local fishermen alleged that over 70 boats were spotted along the Mumbai coast, between Sunday and Monday, using the banned nets.
In February 2016, the state government had issued guidelines for sustainable fishing practices by restricting the use of such nets by bringing down permits from 494 to 182 and allowed the use of such nets only from September to December in certain areas along the 720 km coastline of Mahrashtra.
“As of January 1, all such nets are banned for use within the territorial waters, which is 12 nautical miles from the sea shore,” said an official from the state government. ”The move is aimed at curbing the exploitation of fish by safeguarding the fingerlings and eggs. It is an environmental issue and we wanted to maintain the biodiversity of the fish population.”
Purse seine nets can stretch from 500 metres up to 1 kilometres and sometimes fishermen attach two or three such nets and cover an area of 3 kilometres, pulling out a large proportion of fish population. The nets have mesh spanning from 25 mm to 35mm that blocks small fish, fishlings and fish eggs from falling back into the ocean, thereby stopping them from multiplying.
The official added that decision will benefit the traditional fisherman community as they use much smaller nets in shallow waters. It will increase fish catch and protect the fish population as larger pores will allow fishlings and eggs to slip out during the daily catch. Over 80,000 families are dependent on fishing for their livelihood across Maharashtra with 456 fishing villages in seven districts - namely Mumbai city, Mumbai suburban, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratangiri and Sindhudurg.
Meanwhile, members of a local fishing community said that large fishing boats were spotted along Sassoon dock, Bhaucha Dhakka, where crores of fish were pulled out even after the ban. “Fishermen, mostly from Raigad districts, have blatantly violated the government’s decision and are still pulling out large fish stock,” said Damodar Tandel, president, Akhil Maharashtra Machimar Kriti Samiti (AMMKS), an association of fishermen from Cuffe Parade Machimar Nagar. “There is need for stricter vigilance along the coastline to stop this activity.”
Another fisherman from Manori said that large fishing boats are only interested in catching species such as Indo-Pacific king mackerel (surmai), rawas, pomfret, catfish etc but discard small fish like Mackerel (bangda), which is important for the latter’s catch. “In one season the larger fishing boats have catch spreading from one to five crore fish per boat but in our case it does not exceed a few lakhs,” said Dileep Mathak, fisherman. “The decision will help even out revenue for everyone.”
Officials from the fisheries department said that they will be floating a proposal this year to introduce only 40 mm sized mesh for fishnets as opposed to the already existing purse seine nets. “We are proposing a common mesh size for all fishermen across the state. This mesh will be in a square shape during fishing and will give enough room for juvenile fish and eggs to fall out as the net is drawn in,” said a senior official from the fisheries department.
‘Decision needs to be implemented at national-level’
“We welcome the government’s decision as this will help our livelihood,” said Kiran Koli, president, Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti. “As per international studies, the use of such nets can destroy fish biodiversity completely and there is a need to implement these guidelines on a national level.”