Small-scale fishermen claim that the new policy favours large vessels and encourages mega corporations to enter the fishing industry. They also want the permit application process to be decentralised.
Jobith, a fisherman from the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, has sailed out to sea in his boat and is making his way from Nagercoil to Kochi. When The Federal contacted him, he had already begun sailing from his house to Kochi Harbour, where he filled the tank with fuel and prepared food for the following month’s survival.
Jobith and his 14 coworkers typically spend 30 to 45 days at sea fishing. They go 700 nautical miles offshore before reaching the high seas. They compete for fish with fishing boats from China, Iran, and Oman.
“We do fishing on the high seas. Usually, the fishermen-sailors from other countries consider the sea as everyone’s property. Though there are gigantic ships of foreign countries, we manage to catch fish worth ₹15-20 lakh,” Jobith said. They make a profit of ₹5-10 lakh, which is shared among all the workers, he added.
Jobith has no idea what will happen after the new deep sea fishing policy is put into effect, though.
The Central Fisheries Ministry’s August 30 publication of a draught policy paper caused agitation among hundreds of small-scale fishermen, including Jobsite. “As far as I know, the new policy gives big vessels preference. There will be an increase in businesses and corporations fishing. Small-scale fishermen will find it challenging,” Jobith voiced his concern.
Small-scale vessels are defined as those that are smaller than 25 metres in length, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) standards.
Collectively, the fishing communities in Tamil Nadu and Kerala have similar worries. “The goal of the new strategy is to corporate the fishing industry. According to Charles George, president of the All India Deep Sea Fishers Association, “the traditional small-scale fisherman will be kept out of the high seas, which will eventually cause them to forsake the occupation.”
On August 30, the Union Fisheries Department published the Guidelines for Regulation of Fishing by Indian Flagged Fishing Vessels in the High Seas, 2022, on its website and solicited comments.
Fishermen and industry professionals are very concerned about the new regulations. It has been suggested that it be changed to make it more accommodating to fishermen since it is now perceived as being more “industry-friendly.”
According to the rules, all ships flying the Indian flag need permission to fish in international waters. Those with a length of 25 metres or greater must pay a fee of 5 lakh. A permit costs one lakh rupees for boats that are between 15 and 24 metres in length. The statutory fee for vessels under 15 metres in length is 50,000.
In a letter to the Union government, the All India Deep Sea Association urged that these clauses are examined and the charge decreased.
According to the group, the government has not even updated the number of fishing vessels registered in India. According to the preface, India has 40 million fishermen.
“Even the preamble of the guidelines needs to be updated. There are 315,000 cannons being operated in India, which indicates that the actual number of fishermen is much greater than that mentioned in the policy draft. In the international sea alone, there are roughly 1,000 boats. All of them are about 20-22 metres in length and come under the category of small-scale fishing,” said George.
According to the association, almost 100 per cent of vessels belonging to small-scale fishermen have lengths less than 25 metres.
The new proposed policy also centralises the authorization procedure. According to the new policy, the Union government has the right to provide permissions.
It is made apparent in the definition clause of the draught policy. The Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairy, Government of India, or any other Issuing authority authorised by the Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairy, Government of India on its behalf, is the issuing authority.
“Every fisherman from the other end of the country cannot go to Delhi to get a permit. This has to be decentralised,” said M Majeed, secretary of the All India Deep Sea Fishers Association. The association has demanded that the licence issuing authority be the respective state fisheries departments.
According to the 2022 report of the FAO, ‘The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA)’, India’s marine exports have shown a declining trend.
“India had become the fourth major exporter in 2017. However, India was overtaken by Chile in 2020 as the value of India’s exports has been on a downward trend since 2018. In 2020, the total value of India’s exports of aquatic products reached $5.8 billion, down from $7.2 billion in 2017,” stated the FAO report.