By Deepshi, Gujarat National Law University.

About the committee:

A seven-member committee, headed by Dr. B. Meenakumari, Deputy Director General (Fisheries), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was formed for comprehensive review of deep-sea fishing Policy. It was appointed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the Eighty-sixth Foundation Day and Award Ceremony of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in New Delhi on 29 July called upon the practitioners of fisheries and aquaculture to usher in ‘Blue Revolution’ by sustainable exploitation of the fisheries wealth from the marine and other aquatic resources of the country. The Committee submitted to Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture in August 2014.

Content of the report

The 140-page-long report begins with a review of the Comprehensive Marine Fishing Policy of 2004 and the existing Guidelines for deep-sea Fishing in the Exclusive economic zones. There are suggestions to fully exploit the Catch Potential in the Indian Exclusive economic Zones and International Waters. Another Term of reference includes the examination of the status of compliance of regional and global requirements of management and regulation of marine fisheries including CCRF and proposed FAO Guidelines on Flag State Responsibilities.

TOR 1 highlights some of the flaws of the 2004 Policy which are:

  • Non-identification of a legal instrument
  • No stress gender equality, the role of women and their participation in the fisheries sector Importance has not been given to the category of “traditional fishers”.
  • A precise time frame hasn’t been defined.
  • Non-linking of technology to the different sectors of fisheries activities.
  • Absence of Conflict resolution
  • Lack of clarity over the global and regional commitments of the fisheries sector in India.
  • Treatment of fisheries at par with other activities of agriculture
  • Overlooking the development initiatives of the coastal areas giving rise to ‘tragedy of the commons’.
  • Flaws in the provision of subsidy and its weak impact on infrastructural growth.
  • Resource management and pivotal responsibility to fisherman along with extra social security for them has been missing.

It has been agreed upon that one of the growing concerns in this regard is the increasing focus of the Department of Fisheries on welfare related activities, relegating their core function of management to the background.

TOR 1 declares that this policy which includes both ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do’ with a clear responsibility structure and time-frame and unlike the 2004 policy the intention of the makers is to give it a proper implementation so that it does not just remain confined on paper.

Under TOR 2 existing guidelines on Deep Sea fisheries were reviewed. The concept of LOP that is Letter of Permit which is a scheme for deployment of fishing vessels and the need for a sound MCS (Monitoring, Control and Surveillance) regime has been laid emphasis on for reducing Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing arising from domestic or foreign fishing fleets.

In this regard, the Expert Committee also draws the attention of the Government of India to the Report of the Working Group on ‘Development and Management of Fisheries and Aquaculture’ for the Twelfth Five-Year Plan Period (2012- 2017) which has held up the following activities for consideration of the Government;

  • Setting up of an MCS Division in the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries (DAHD&F), Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Issue of biometric cards to marine fishers and creation of a national fishermen database;
  • Mandatory registration and licensing of all fishing vessels including artisanal vessels;
  • Implementation of color-coding for all fishing boats;
  • Fitment of distress alert transmitters, GPS and other safety devices, including automatic identification system for tracking and regulating fishing vessels;
  • Registration and licensing of boat building yards and development of a centralized database
  • Setting up of harbor based MCS units, which would also include representatives of fishermen and their associations; and
  • Awareness campaign, outreach and educational programs and capacity building at all levels.

Under TOR-3 the need for full utilization of the catch potential of the EEZ and the international waters have been recognized and the development has been looked into with respect to the impact it may have on the fisherman. The concern is also towards infrastructural development and generating enough exports through the exploitation of the offshore resources and human capacity development. The committee has made several recommendations

  • Sustainable exploitation of fisheries and a holistic plan for the resource consumption in the coastal areas.
  • Diversify fishing using deep buffer zones and development of technology to exploit water beyond 500 meters
  • Squid fishing to be increased
  • Trained domestic crew on board and capacity building of the existing Indian crew.
  • Requested the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training (CIFNET) Kochi to design appropriate courses for different category of operators and conduct training programs
  • Government should consider setting up of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in selected places to make tuna fishing more renumerative.

Some other recommendations have also been made and the last part that is TOR 4 deals with status of compliance of regional and global requirements of management and regulation of marine fisheries including CCRF and proposed FAO Guidelines of Flag State responsibilities. The Committee is of the view that Indian fisheries is now set in a globalized world. The global agenda on fisheries is guided by a set of binding and non-binding instruments that concern both fisheries and environmental aspects. India being a signatory to such instruments and agreements needs to implement the provisions of such instruments and agreements to meet its international obligations and make fisheries sustainable.

In this regard the Expert Committee strongly recommends strengthening of the fisheries institutions, especially those under the fold of DAHD&F, Ministry of Agriculture, in terms of manpower, human resource development and wherewithal. India will be able to optimally exploit its fisheries resources in the EEZ as also ensure that the resources are sustained and inter-generational equity is not compromised. Such an approach would also ensure realization of the ‘Blue Revolution’ from the Indian seas.

Conclusion

The committee report, which strongly claims to make revolutionary changes in the Indian fishing scenario, has been under the scanner for a variety of reasons. Fishermen have claimed that this report, which apparently offers them benefits, will further jeopardize their interests in the long run hereby expressing their complete displeasure at the same.

Social activist Medha Patekar has also firmly disapproved of the same. While addressing the fisherman’s rally in Kerala she said, “The Dr Meera Kumari Commission report justifies the looting of our marine resources by foreign companies. It allows foreign fishing vessels to loot our wealth and also welcomes foreign crews in Indian waters. The report contradicts the recommendations of P Murari Committee that opposed issue of further licenses to foreign fishing vessels.”

The protest has been so much on so many levels that the Central Government is being compelled to scrap the report. The question as to how will it manage the balance of interests still remains unanswered.