Fisheries sector in a whirlpool
24 March, 2006
By Muhammad Rizwan Bhatti
With the annual seafood export to the tune of $150 million, the fisheries sector has assumed a vital significance in the country's economy, but it is also facing alarming threats like flawed government policies, illegal fishing practices and increase in POL prices.
If the current state of affairs is allowed to persist, the fishing sector will totally collapse within six months.
A large population of fishermen lives in Gwadar, Balochistan, where fishing is carried out on a huge scale. The coastline of Karachi is the most important site for fishing. The areas of Manora, Ibrahim Hadiri and other islands are the major abodes of fishermen. These coastal sites are also major hubs of fishing.
Some fishermen at Karachi and Korangi fish harbours have started using nets like Bholo and Gajja which had been banned by the Sindh government. But the ban is nowhere seen in place and, subsequently, a large number of deep sea trawlers and fishermen are using these nets.
The government had issued licences to 13 deep seas trawlers, which are using thin nets to catch fish in large number. This way small fish also get trapped in the nets, and the trawlers throw the dead small fish back into the sea after collecting large ones. This practice not only adds to environmental pollution in the seas but is also counterproductive for fish growth.
Earlier, the fishermen had announced that they would observe a two-month strike against use of prohibited nets at Karachi fish harbour, and hike in the prices of petroleum products.
Sources in the fisheries department said deep sea trawler licences fetched heavy fees. On the other hand, the fishermen are of the view that if the government imposes ban on the trawlers, they are ready to provide more revenue than what the government collects in the form of licence fee.
A representative of fishermen said about one million people were associated with fishing, and 15,000 launches were being operated.
He said over Rs450,000 was spent on a 15 days fishing expedition, including Rs250,000 fuel cost. At least 15 people accompany a launch during the trip. In the prevailing situation, large fish are not caught and only small fish are trapped, which is not profitable. The investors have stopped pouring money into the business due to tremendous losses.
He said, according to government rules, the fishing net should have spacing of 9 centimeter, but a particular group was using nets of one centimeter specification.
He said complaints had been lodged with all the government departments in this respect. "We have met livestock secretary Baz Mohammad Junejo, who is not ready to take any step on this matter."
The representative said fishermen cooperative society, Karachi fisheries harbor authorities and maritime security agency were also not paying attention to the issue.
Two years ago, one million tones fish and prawns were brought to Karachi fish harbour, but now the catch has dropped to only 50,000 tones.
He lamented that Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister on Fisheries and Livestock Jadam Mangrio had not contacted the fishermen after they went on strike.
He feared that the seafood exports this year could face a $40 million decline. Last year exports stood at $150 million, and during the current year, the figure is likely to stay between $100 million and $110 million.
The fishing sector can be revitalized if the ban on prohibited nets is implemented in letter and spirit, he said.
To a question, the representative said the fishermen earlier purchased diesel from Gwadar for Rs25 per liter to control expenses, but now the coast guards did not allow them to do so. This had made it next to impossible to sustain fishing profession for them.
Sea food processing plants are also facing crisis due to shortfall in fishing and they have started retrenching their staff to avert loss.
He urged the government to take measures to put the fisheries sector back on the track.