The state fisheries department has proposed new guidelines to reduce the overfishing of juvenile fish, which is not only destroying stocks along the Konkan coast, but also causing a loss of Rs 686 crore every year, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI).
Catching juvenile fish before they have a chance to breed reduces fish population and can lead to extinction of species. However, currently, there are no restrictions on sale of undersized fish in Maharashtra.
The fisheries department has asked the state to notify the minimal landing size (MLS) for 58 fish species. Rajendra Jadhav, joint commissioner, Maharashtra fisheries, said, "The idea is to prevent juvenile fish exploitation and overfishing in those stocks which have high reproductive potential. We have been told that the guidelines will be published in the form of a government notification by the end of this month or early next year."
Jadhav said that they have also banned the use of traditional diamond-shaped 20-25-mm nets. "Square mesh cod-ends of 40mm have been allowed save more juvenile fish," he said. Nets of larger mesh size allow juvenile fish to slip through, leaving behind only larger fish.
According to CMFRI, juveniles of slow growing fish species, such as sharks, and high value species, such as groupers or pomfrets, have become a common sight at fish landings sites, including Mumbai. "If juvenile fish were allowed to grow to their natural size and spawn at least once before they are caught, economic losses for Maharashtra will not be in hundreds of crores as it is currently," said Ajay Nakhawa, scientist from CMFRI, Mumbai.
HT had reported in June that CMFRI data showed an alarming rise in overfishing, particularly of juvenile fish, leading to heavy economic losses. Extreme weather events combined with juvenile overfishing were the main reasons for a 22.5% decline in marine fish landings in Maharashtra, from 3.81 lakh tonnes in 2017 to 2.95 lakh tonnes in 2018. Species such as Indian mackerel, Bombay duck, and pomfret, among others, witnessed a decline.
Tarun Shridhar, secretary, department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries, had issued an advisory in February, directing all coastal states to implement an MLS for catching, landing and trade of fish by modifying the Marine Fishes Regulation Act (MFRA). The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-CMFRI had then developed models for each state, listing recommendations for MLS fishnets for commercial trade, identifying appropriate sizes of mesh (in cms), which can help control juvenile overfishing.
While all coastal states promised to implement MLS, models suggested by CMFRI have been implemented only by Kerala and Karnataka so far. "Juvenile bycatch is a major conservation and ecological issue in Maharashtra fisheries, and we believe that the state will take necessary management measures for ensuring healthy ocean around us," said Akhilesh KV, another CMFRI scientist.
Fishermen said while they, too, were against juvenile by-catch, high demand, combined with extreme weather events, had forced them to catch undersized fish. "There have been five cyclones in Arabian Sea this year, effectively reducing 85% of our catch days. The fishing community is most vulnerable at this stage, and we are managing with whatever catch we are getting, including juvenile, only to sustain our livelihood," said Rajesh Mangela, leader of city-based fishing group and member of the National Fisherman's Forum.
A BID TO SAVE CRORES OF LOSSES
According to CMFRI, the state suffers around Rs686 crore every year owing to juvenile fishing
PROPOSED GUIDELINES TO REDUCE OVERFISHING IN MAHA
•Minimum size at maturity (MSM): To prevent growth overfishing in stocks which are the smallest mature fish moderately resilient to fishing pressure
•Size (or weight) at maturity or size/weight at 50% maturity: Can be used in situations where the stock is depleted or rebuilding
•Size at sexual differentiation into male and female: To prevent juvenile exploitation and overfishing in those stocks which have high reproductive potential
ESTIMATED MINIMUM LEGAL SIZE FOR NETS TO CATCH 58 FISH SPECIES ALONG MAHA COAST
•Squids (Indian squid, Long barrel squid, Sword tip squid): 10 cm
•Cuttlefish (Pharaoh cuttle fish): 11cm
•Octopus (Ocellate octopus, Old women octopus): 5 and 9 cm
•Crustaceans (Prawn, Crab, Lobster): Ranging between 6 and 11cm for prawn, 5 to 9cm for crab, and 150 to 500 for lobster
•Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays): 38 to 53 cm
•Teleosts: 17 cm for pomfret, 32 cm for Queen fish, 10cm for sardines, 12 cm for anchovy, 14cm for Mackerel, 37 cm for seer, 18-50 cm for tuna, 11-26cm for scad etc.
(Source: Maharashtra fisheries department and CMFRI)
ECONOMICAL LOSSES DUE TO JUVENILE BY-CATCH IN MAHA
Fish speciesEstimated loss per year due to juveniles caught (in Rs)Percentage of fish catch which are juveniles
Pomfret 220-280 croreOver 40%
Croakers (dhoma) 60-150 croreOver 40%
Seer fish (surmai) 50 -120 crore30-40%
Cephalopods (octopus, squids, cuttlefish etc.)40-90 crore20-40%
Catfishes (shingada) 20-40 crore23-28%
Mackerel (bangda) 1-6 crore40-50%
PERCENTAGE OF JUVENILE FISH SPECIES CAUGHT AT FERRY WHARF, MUMBAI
CMFRI also calculated the percentage of juvenile by-catch at Ferry Wharf in Mumbai's Mazagaon, which was one of the highest for India, said researchers.
Juveniles of fish speciesPercentage of juveniles caught
Wolf herring 64%
Bombay duck 33%