In a move to curb overfishing of juvenile fish, Maharashtra's fisheries department has asked the government to notify the minimum landing/legal size (MLS) for 58 commercially important fish species in the state. The MLS is the size at which a particular species can be legally caught, retained and traded. At present, there is no ban or penalty levied on fishermen for catching juvenile fish in the state.
Only Kerala and Karnataka have so far notified similar guidelines. Last year, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) had submitted to the state a proposal to reduce juvenile fishing. A juvenile fish is a fish catch much before it attains its maximum size or has reproduced even once.
"To reduce the juvenile fish catch, guidelines will be submitted to the state government this week. Following this, the state will issue a notification specifying the MLS for fish species. This has been pending for long and will be taken up at the earliest," said Rajeev Jadhav, Fisheries Commissioner.
For better implementation, the state fisheries department has also proposed random species wise sample collection at sea or in the landing centre or ports to check the MLS.
The CMFRI has proposed that if 50 per cent catch is below the MLS, the entire catch should be considered a violation. Some other recommendations by the institute are the introduction of log book, mandatory installation of vessel monitoring system (VMS) or automatic identification system (AIS) in fishing boats.
Acting on the CMFRI proposal for size restriction on fishing, the ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying had issued an advisory, directing all coastal states to implement the MLS for catching, landing and trading of fish by modifying the Marine Fishing Regulation Act (MFRA). The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-CMFRI had then developed models for each state, listing recommendations for MLS fish, identifying appropriate sizes of mesh (in cm), which can help control juvenile overfishing.
According to the CMFRI, with the increasing demand for marine fish for consumption and other non-food utilisation, such as ornamental oils, exploitation of juvenile fish is becoming common. The CMFRI noted that 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.
The research group also suggested that with the help of the fishing community and traders, a database of regions of high juvenile fish aggregations on a spatial scale could help ensure that fisheries were sustainable.
Combined with extreme weather events and increase in juvenile fish catch, according to annual fish marine estimates, in 2018, there was a major decline in marine fish landings catch in the state. It fell to 2.95 lakh tonnes from 3.81 lakh tonnes in 2017, a 22.5 per cent decline.