Mumbai fisherman strikes a balance for marine conservation
From rescuing protected marine species to curbing juvenile fishing, one Mumbaiite has reached out to thousands of fisherfolk along the Maharashtra coast, spreading the message of sustainable fishing practices.
Ganesh B Nakhawa, 31, a member of the Karanja Fishing Cooperative Society in Mumbai
Has been working to highlight key challenges such as the effects of climate change on fishing practices, plastic and industrial pollution, industrial fishing from foreign fishing fleets, sustainability in acquiring seafood, and marine wildlife conservation across districts along the Konkan coast.
“From a very young age, the passion for the sea and specifically fishing drove to me to ensure I give something back to nature,” he said.
Nakhawa is part of a seven-generation-old traditional fisher family, and began fishing at the age of 12.
After finishing his higher education in Edinburgh, Scotland and garnering a degree in finance, Nakhawa chose not to pursue a future abroad.
“I had a job offer from an investment bank, but I decided to come back to India in 2011 to pursue fishing as my primary career,” he said.
Most recently, Nakhawa, along with a team of fishermen, spotted and traced a fleet of 10 large Chinese fishing vessels with over 200 crew members along the Ratnagiri coast, and informed state and Central authorities about their illegal fishing practices.
The 10 vessels were detained in June by several departments of the Central government. A full-fledged investigation is still underway to understand what business these vessels had in Indian coastal waters.
Chairman of the Maharashtra Purse Seine Fishing Welfare Association, an angling body focusing on reducing juvenile overfishing, Nakhawa and his team have been spreading awareness about 40 protected marine species found along the Maharashtra coast among resident fishing boat skippers and their crew. The association has managed to successfully rescue five whale sharks over the past year, among 20 other marine rescues, and has been informing the state about locations where dolphins, whales, tortoises, etc. are regularly spotted.
“The idea is to develop more protected marine areas to enhance security for this ecosystem to thrive,” said Nakhawa.
According to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Maharashtra’s marine fish landings fell by 22.5% in 2018 from 2017, due to high juvenile over-fishing and extreme weather events. Nakhawa recently filed complaints with the fisheries department, highlighting the sale of juvenile mackerel and pomphret at Mumbai’s docks.
“Simpler uniform policies; encouraging the use of more sustainable fishing gear; reducing bottom trawling, and bringing regulations to the fish meal industry are the major solutions to deal with this alarming issue,” he said. “We need to become responsible consumers and refuse to purchase juveniles at markets.”
CMFRI estimated that the juvenile fish catch across Maharashtra was leading to overall losses exceeding ₹686 crore per year, with 50% of the total catch from Mumbai. “There is a need to promote sustainable fishing now more than ever. While people like Nakhawa are trying to raise awareness in Maharashtra, similar efforts are being made across other states, from within the community,” said Akhilesh CV, scientist from CMFRI, Mumbai.
N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said, “Change from existing fishing practices requires a lot of effort for overall protection of our coastal ecosystem. In the short run, it may also involve loss of income. However, Nakhawa and his group are taking this message home to the main stakeholders much better than the government can do.”
Nakhawa believes that there is a long battle ahead to achieve widespread sustainable fishing. “Small changes can really help fight the impacts of climate change and have a positive impact and realistic solution for the future of fishing,” he said.