KARACHI: While rejecting the federal government’s decision to provide licences to deep-sea fishing trawlers, fishermen of the Sindh coastal belt announced a campaign against any such decisions.

The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and Pakistan Bona-fide Fishermen Forum held a protest rally in this regard from the Arts Council of Pakistan to the Karachi Press Club here on Wednesday.

Participants in the rally carried banners and placards chanting slogans against deep-sea fishing trawlers. PFF chairman Mohammad Ali Shah, president Pakistan Bona-fide Fishermen Forum Mohammad Hussain and Fatima Majeed addressed the rally.

Mohammad Ali Shah said that the federal government has once again begun to process licences for deep-sea vessels under a policy to fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around 20 miles off the coast in Sindh and Balochistan. “Around a dozen trawlers are anchored around the Karachi Port,” he said.

He said that there were around 4.6 million small, medium and large boats in the world. Out of which, fewer than one per cent, or 35,000, deep-sea fishing trawlers existed. However, they exploit 52 per cent of the marine resources. Their fishing nets are spread over several kilometres and they damage the marine ecology. “They dredge and damage marine life. They catch only target fish while throwing around 90 per cent dead fish back into the sea as they pollute it,” he said.

He demanded that since the deep-sea fishing policy has not been approved, an inquiry should be conducted to find out those responsible for allowing the deep-sea trawlers in Pakistani waters.

Mohammad Ali Shah said that the expansion of fishing into the deep sea was a grave threat to the livelihood of small fishermen and also for marine ecology. Hence, it is a violation of national laws and international commitments. If the provincial assemblies have not approved the policy then it is also a violation of the Constitution of Pakistan.

He said that since the ecology of territorial waters and livelihoods in provinces would be harmed deeply, it was indeed the constitutional privilege of the provinces to reject the policy as an illegitimate exercise of federal jurisdiction over the EEZ.

“Our grave objection to this action is two-fold,” he said. “It threatens the livelihoods of small fishermen by depriving them of catch today, and in the future by ecologically destructive practices of these vessels.”

Mr Shah said that the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s latest fish stock assessment conducted with the support of the federal government had already painted a very dismal picture of the country’s marine fish stock. According to the assessment report, more than 72pc of the fish stock in the coastal areas of Pakistan has declined.

The federal government might have the authority to regulate deep-sea fishing, ie beyond 12 nautical miles from the baseline to the EEZ stretching over 200 nautical miles across the coastline; however, fishing is a provincial subject and the provinces have authority to regulate fisheries in sea or in freshwater bodies.

Mohammad Hussain said they were quite puzzled at the renewal of the process after many years of rejection by previous governments. It is imperative that this process of licences be terminated immediately without discrimination between domestic and foreign applicants, he said.

If a deep-sea fishing policy is announced and trawlers are provided licences under it, it would be a violation of Pakistan’s commitment of the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as it would deprive fishermen of the right to food.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2020