Fishing ban renders many jobless for two months

June 02, 2016

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Fishermen anchor their boats at the fish harbour and pack up their belongings to head home with the last of their catch.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Fishermen anchor their boats at the fish harbour and pack up their belongings to head home with the last of their catch.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: “Where I used to make thousands catching shrimp, I will now earn Rs50 to Rs100 a day working on agriculture lands,” said Mahmood Saleh Mohammad, a crew member of the Al Rahim fishing trawler, parked at the Karachi fisheries on Wednesday. And it will stay there for two months due to the ban on fishing from June 1 to July 31.

As per an order of the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority, government of Sindh, there will be a ban for two months on catching all types of shrimp as well as four species of fresh water fish — Rahu, Mori, Tala and Calbaro. The ban is imposed every year but sometimes, looking at the hardship fishermen face during this time, there is also a relaxation allowed, making the two months into one. But the ban is important as it keeps overfishing in check and comes during the breading season of shrimp and fish helping bring the depleting marine resources some respite.

Haji Mufeez, owner of three fishing boats, also parked at the harbour now, said that he knew the hardship of fishermen during these two months of ban as he was himself a fisherman once. “I offer labour jobs to the fishermen who work for me. There is plenty of odd things to be taken care of on the boats like repairing, carpentry, painting, etc. The fishing nets also need to be repaired and these men engage in all this work in exchange of a daily wage allowing them to not go home empty-handed,” he said.

Amanullah, another fisherman who is a member of the crew on a boat named Al Fatah, said that even when going out to sea they did not always return with a full load and that’s when there was a danger of making a loss so it was not like they always made money during the fishing season. “Each expedition means an investment of Rs1 million to Rs2m as diesel, eating rations and ice cost a lot, too. And then if can’t overcome that expenditure, we make a loss. Even then we return home empty-handed. It’s a hard life, one which we fishermen are used to. So these two months will also pass. It is okay,” he said.

“They develop sea legs at sea and during the fishing ban they learn to support themselves on the hard ground,” said Anis Soomro of the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS).

According to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), the ban will affect around one million fishermen. The PFF, which represents marine and inland fishermen communities, has proposed that the provincial government announce a package of at least Rs10,000 a month for each fisherman during the ban.

Mohammad Ali Shah, PFF chairperson, said such a package was the need of the hour as it was not just inflation that created a problem for the poor workforce, they would also have a difficult time during the two months as Ramazan and Eid fall during this crucial period. “The fishing sector contributes more than the agriculture sector to the national exchequer and yet there are no incentives for this workforce from the government,” said Shah.

He said that global warming and climate change had put adverse impacts on this sector and hundreds of fishermen in Thatta, Sujawal and Badin districts had to migrate from one place to another in search of a better livelihood. “This is also so due to there being no river water streaming to the Indus delta and to the sea, which has had an adverse impact on marine resources, and the fisher folk community suffers as a result of that,” Shah said.

Meanwhile, World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan has lauded the provincial government’s imposition of the two-month ban on catching shrimp during the close season.

“This is after 10 years that imposition of the ban was started on June 1. Earlier, instead of two months close season, only one month ban, during July, had been imposed since 2008,” said a WWF-Pakistan press release.

Shrimp resources of the coastal areas of Pakistan have been over-exploited. Therefore, the federal government issued a notification (S.R.O. 329(1)/79) under the Exclusive Fishery Zone (Regulation of Fishing) Act 1975 for the management and conservation of shrimp resources and declared that no shrimp would be caught from June 1 to July 31 in the entire zone. The government of Sindh vide Section 4 of the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance, 1980, announced a ban on shrimp fishing for June and July in 1983. However, it was only during three years, that is, 1984, 1985 and 2007, that this ban was imposed for June and July. While, in the remaining period, the ban was imposed for only one month.

WWF-Pakistan hoped that the Sindh government would ensure that the ban this year was implemented in letter and spirit and its duration would not be reduced this time or in future.

Studies carried out by the Marine Fisheries Department and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations revealed that economic over-fishing of shrimp in Pakistan started in the early 1970s when the catch of jaira (large-sized white shrimp) started decreasing. This led to the growth of overfishing (when size composition of each category of shrimp declined in early 1980s). There has been an 80pc decline in the catch of large-size shrimp over the past four decades which required an imposition of the two months fishing ban on catching shrimp.

According to technical adviser (marine fisheries) Mohammad Moazzam Khan, WWF-Pakistan, the catch per boat of all category of shrimp had declined drastically and there was a need that appropriate management measures were taken. The fishing fleet engaged in shrimp trawling had increased and it was estimated that more than 2,500 trawlers were operating in Sindh. This large sized fleet had resulted in extremely high level of overfishing. Imposition of ban on catching shrimp was considered to be most effective management measures as it allowed juvenile shrimp (pastas) to move from mangrove and shallow coastal areas to the open sea.

“Of course, we understand the need for the ban. We also expect to be rewarded for our sacrifices of going hungry and not buying new clothes on Eid by finding lots and lots of catch on Aug 1, when we return to sea,” said fisherman Amanullah on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2016