OWING primarily to overfishing, not only is the long-term stability of the fisheries industry under threat, species once found in plenty in Pakistan’s coastal waters may soon become a rarity. As reported in this paper, lobster fisheries along the Sindh and Balochistan coasts are on the verge of collapse, while matters also do not look good where other marine species, such as fish and shrimp, are concerned. Along with overfishing, the use of illegal small-sized nets has also jeopardised the fishing trade, as these nets scoop up nearly everything — including juvenile fish — from the depths of the sea. Reportedly, most of the catch that reaches the harbour in Karachi consists of juvenile fish. This ‘trash fish’ yields a lower price in the market, while the process also disturbs the natural reproductive cycle of marine life. Huge foreign trawlers fishing illegally in Pakistan’s waters have also decimated fish stocks.
To protect the fisheries industry and to maintain the ecological balance, a sustainable fisheries policy needs to be implemented. A crackdown is required against destructive illegal nets that — despite being outlawed — are still in widespread use. Better policing of the coastline and territorial waters is also required in order to keep a check on illegal vessels. It must also be ensured that fish, shrimp and lobsters are not caught during their respective breeding seasons; unless the stocks are allowed to be replenished, there is little hope for the future availability of many marine species in our waters. Fishermen need to be consulted and alternative means of livelihood suggested during the periods the ban on fishing is enforced. The choice is between the stakeholders coming up with a sustainable and fair fisheries policy and the seafood industry in Pakistan being prepared for its eventual demise. Unless the fisheries sector is regulated with input from all stakeholders, including fishermen and experts, and policy decisions are firmly implemented, we risk destroying rich marine life and countless livelihoods due to unsustainable practices.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2015