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Two-month fishing ban likely to be relaxed

June 10, 2013

KARACHI, June 9: In the absence of an alternative source of livelihood for fishermen and its failure to develop the sector on sustainable grounds, the Sindh government is likely to relax the two-month ban it imposed on fishing recently, it emerged on Sunday.

According to sources, the government was facing immense pressure from the fishermen community and some political circles to relax the ban and an official announcement on ban relaxation would come in a few days.

Voicing their concern over the two-month ban, fishermen said that it was a grave injustice to them to deprive the poor from their livelihood even for a month given the fact that the government had made no arrangements for their alternative livelihood.

“We have requested the chief minister to provide immediate relief to fishermen already finding it difficult to make ends meet in the face of depleting catch and rising inflation. Relief is required in the shape of ban relaxation as well as other support, for instance through provision of ration,” said Mohammad Rafique Salman, a fishermen representative working as a manager at the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS).

The request for the ban relaxation, he said, was made every year to the government as fishermen faced hardships while marine resources were exhausting.

“Though the two-month fishing ban is in accordance with the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance 1980, it could have devastating impacts on the fishing community living on the edge, if it is served for full two months,” he said while arguing that relief to fishermen this year was badly needed also on account of approaching Ramazan.

Answering a question about FCS efforts for poverty alleviation, he said the FCS, governed by a 15-member board, never received any money from the government and worked on a no-profit-no-loss basis.

The board, he said, could only make recommendations but did not have decision-making powers as eight of the 15 members were government officials.

“We get a three per cent commission on every Rs100,000 earned from a trip. The money is spent solely on harbour maintenance, employees’ salaries and fishermen’s welfare. We help fishermen arrange weddings and in getting basic necessities of life,” he said.

The objectives of marine conservation, he said, could be achieved only when the government linked it with poverty alleviation. Unless the government supported the fisheries sector by providing, for instance subsidised fuel, and created alternative opportunities for livelihood in the period when fishing was prohibited, agendas like helping growth of fish and shrimps and promoting use of eco-friendly nets would remain a dream.

Every year, the ban is reduced to a one-month period, though its duration should be two months as mentioned in the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance, 1980. This, the sources said, was done under political and community pressures.

The ban was imposed on fishing shrimps and some freshwater species this year through a government notification on May 21. Though the ban was meant for the entire province, it was implemented only at the Karachi fish harbour and fishing of shrimps continued in creek areas, the sources added.

‘Fishing ban necessary’ While fishermen seemed to have genuine concerns over the fishing-ban, experts believed that the continued weakness on part of the government to implement the measure in letter and spirit would lead to further deterioration of marine resources.

“The fishing ban has a scientific logic and is necessary to help certain marine species to get mature. It was introduced after many experts recommended it through extensive research. It is unfortunate, however, that the Sindh government is still struggling to implement the ban and has failed to develop fishing on sustainable grounds,” said Shaukat Hussain, the director general of the marine fisheries department.

The June-July fishing ban along with the use of eco-friendly nets, he said, would eventually benefit fishermen when they would catch big sized shrimps and fish and earn better profit. However, they needed the government support to sustain their lives during the fishing-ban period.

Upon contact, the director-administration of the Karachi Fish Harbour Authority, Hadi Bux Kalhoro, explained that the government was planning to develop vocational centres especially for fisherwomen.

“The authority has also recommended to the government for provision of interest-free loans to the fishing community. Besides, the fishermen also get some support from the Benazir Income Support Programme,” he said.

Asked about the specific measures the government has taken to support fishermen during the ban period, he said that a computer centre had been set up at Baba Bhit Island.

“The island has high school level education and the centre would help the youth learn basic computer skills,” he said, adding that the FCS earned in millions and it was its basic job to work for fishermen welfare.