The draft Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2019, introduced by the union government has invited the wrath of the fishing community in Tamil Nadu. The draft was published based on the National Policy on Maritime Fisheries, 2017. The draft, among other recommendations, mandates a license on payment of levy and charges for fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for all fishing vessels.
A delegation of the Tamil Nadu Fishermen and Workers’ Association (TNFWA), affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), met the minister of fisheries, secretary and director of fisheries department in the chief secretariat in Chennai to voice their concerns on the draft bill.
FEAR OF LOSS OF LIVELIHOOD
The fisherfolk of the state fear losing their livelihood on the implementation of the bill since it mandates several legislations. The bill has been drafted based on India’s commitment to international agreements including the United Nations Convention on Law of Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on fishing subsidies in 2001.
The general secretary of TNFWA, S Anthony while speaking to NewsClick, said, “The draft bill has been framed based on the agreements India signed with the international bodies. But, the bill has unfortunately not incorporated any of the livelihood issues of the fishing community except a few. The provisions for mandatory license for fishing and seizure of vessels will work against the fishing community and put them through hardship.”
TRADITIONAL FISHING WILL BE AFFECTED
The draft has not considered the traditional fishermen who venture outwards to territorial sea for fishing. The freedom of the small fishing vessels to venture into such sea areas will become void once the bill is implemented.
Anthony added, “The traditional fishermen are not permitted to fish in the distance between 12 and 200 nautical miles (nmi). The present draft has incorporated several recommendations of the Dr Meena Kumari commission report which was totally against the rights of the fishing community. We demand this bill should be completely withdrawn and the recommendations of Dr Murari Commission should be considered for drafting a new bill on fishing regulation.”
The TNFWA also accused that the draft bill is incomplete while compared with the regulations of the other coastal countries. They also expressed their shock at lack of provisions not being incorporated in the draft to safeguard the livelihoods of the fishermen.
SUBSIDIES WILL END
The office bearers of the TNFWA in their memorandum submitted to the minister of fisheries have expressed their concerns over the withdrawal of subsidies for fishing. The WTO agreement in 2001 has called for ending the subsidies for fishing claiming that the subsidies have resulted in over-fishing.
“The fishermen are provided with subsidies for motorisation of boats, fuels and infrastructure. We fear all these important subsidies will end after the bill comes into force. These subsidies help the traditional fishermen to cope up with the increasing costs. Sometimes, fishermen return emptyhanded even after a month of venturing into the sea losing huge money at a go. This will push the traditional fishermen out of fishing,” said R Loganathan, an office bearer of TNFWA.
The move to introduce licensing for fishing in the EEZ will burden the traditional fishing community as the regulations may force them to fish within the territorial sea limits, where the availability could decrease as a result of the presence of large vessels in the EEZ. The draft also incorporates a clause to ‘exempt any person, entity or category or class of vessel(s) from the requirement of payment of fee and charges as prescribed.’
CORPORATISATION OF FISHING
The office bearers are apprehensive that the corporate friendly approach of the Narendra Modi government will affect their livelihoods as the corporate companies may benefit from the fee exemption clause. Once the large companies obtain license for fishing in the EEZ, the fish resource in the areas closer to the shores will get depleted.
“The procedure for obtaining license from the union government or the authorities is not clearly defined in the bill. But given the approach of the union government towards the corporate companies, the procedure may end up favouring them, while putting the traditional fishermen in an unfavourable situation. This will also result in corporatisation of fishing, a phenomenon which is happening in telecom, railways, defence manufacturing and many other sectors,” added Anthony.
The fishing community while acknowledging the need for a sustainable future of the industry and prevention of over-fishing, are resolved to continue their struggle against such attempts of corporatisation of fishing by the government.