September 8, 2023
In February 2020, Tamil Nadu banned purse seine fishing. The ban was disruptive, cutting off 1.5 million fishers from their livelihoods as their investments turned idle. Justification? Fisheries conservation.
But there is more to the story than what meets the eye. A thread on the findings by our researcher @jeffjosephpaul
Purse-seiners catch species like sardine, mackerel, and tuna by encircling them with specialised nets called purse seines which can be closed at the bottom. Their catch is fresh and of high quality.
Purse-seines were promoted by scientists for their minimal bycatch, higher fuel efficiency and for being less damaging to the ocean ecosystems.
Originating in the 19th century Atlantic coasts, #purseseine fishing gained momentum in India through the 1980s. In Tamil Nadu, it came up after the mid-2000s.
While trawlers, who catch fish by dragging conical nets through the waters and are more harmful to marine ecosystems make up a significant 45% of Tamil Nadu’s 6,783 mechanised fishing crafts (Marine Fisheries Census, 2010), purse seines represent less than 3% of the total fishing crafts.
Then why was it banned; you may ask.
The way purse seines operated led to intra-sectoral conflicts in Tamil Nadu.
Their high returns for the labour set them apart from the two established sectors – trawl net fishing and traditional small-scale fishing.
Requiring large capital and labour to operate, purse seine fishers adopted a collective ownership model. About 40-60 enterprising fishers would come together to operate fleets.
This was a small, but significant shift. Enough to cause disruption within the industry.
The collective ownership model boosted earnings and brought economic prosperity to purse-seine villages. But it caused labour shortages and price drops for trawl boat owners.
By causing sudden price drops at auction centres, purse seiners affected (and annoyed) traditional fishers as well.
These issues fueled the intra-sectoral conflict, resulting in social and professional boycotts between fishing villages. With frequent clashes, calls for their ban grew louder by 2020.
Fishing rules differ among India's coastal states, creating a complex regulatory landscape. Divergent state policies govern the sector: bans, exemptions, and enforcement inconsistencies prevail everywhere.
Some have banned purse seines while others allow their operation.
While Kerala, Puducherry and Odisha have imposed bans, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh allow their operation.
In Tamil Nadu, a ban was first imposed in 2000 using the 1983 Marine Fishing Reg. Act which but remained unimplemented on ground.
With the fisheries department not implementing the ban for 20 years, purse-seiners invested heavily.
Clashes and unrest in 2020 led to the state banning the carrying of purse seine fishing nets within its territorial waters.
With their livelihoods disrupted and debts mounting, purse seine fishers went to the Supreme Court to challenge this order.
After a court-appointed committee found no grounds for the ban, the Supreme Court granted an interim relief in January 2023. It allowed purse seiners to operate outside the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu twice a week, between 8 am and 6 pm.
Are the problems finally resolved?
No. Fishers say that the relief is impractical and insufficient for a sustainable income. Most hours would be lost in crossing territorial waters, leaving little time to fish.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu maintains its stance against allowing even this limited reprieve.
Seven months after the apex court's order, only three vessels have received permission to operate. The fate of others remains uncertain as officials say they are waiting to see the reaction of other sectors.
Many purse seine fishers are left with no choice but to migrate or sell their boats.
All photos: @jeffjosephpaul
You can also watch the video story here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=M3i5a5DV6lo&ab_channel=HimalSouthasian…