The woes of Pasni’s fish harbour

Published November 15, 2021
Pasni harbour in Balochistan.
Pasni harbour in Balochistan.

Pasni, like the other port towns in Gwadar district, used to be a tiny town inhabited by fishermen historically. While fishermen for generations problems of the residents have been compounded in the new technological era.

Pasni was once attacked by the Portuguese who attempted to burn the port town, looting its inhabitants. It has been the centre of commercial activities in the region.

Sadly the infrastructure build by the British has not been updated to empower the locals, pushing it to the throes of economic backwardness even though there is no dearth of oceanic resources.

The population of the port town is over 60,000 and its economy is in limbo as the harbour is reported to have been closed since 2003 for want of operational facilities. Locals have persistently been demanding opening of the fish harbour. Recently, Balochistan Chief Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana along with other senior officers visited Pasni on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The chief secretary said steps would soon be taken for the rehabilitation of the Pasni fish harbour.

Since the harbour is closed, fishermen have to travel 132km to Gwadar to dock the boats which is not cost-effective for the already impoverished community

Ever since the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the significance of Gwadar district has increased manifold. Situated in the same district, Pasni too attracted the attention of Chinese investors who have made promises to locals, especially the fishermen to make the harbour functional. “It has not been fruitful so far, even though a Chinese delegation visited the port town for the purpose,” shares Sajid Baloch, a Pasni-based journalist. “Other than Chinese, Japanese grants for rehabilitation of fish harbor did not deliver.”

Background interviews suggest the Japanese granted Rs8 million a decade ago for the fish harbour.

In 2002, before the fish harbour was closed down, the Balochistan Coastal Development Authority (BCDA) was reported to have planned to build four new fish harbours along the provincial coast at a cost of Rs240 million, including Pasni. Ironically, instead of helping the fishermen community, it raised expectations before it closed down in 2003. Since then, locals share with Dawn, the funds continue to disappear without a trace.

According to data obtained from the fisheries harbour’s account, there are about 13,000 fishermen in the area and some 4,000 boats. The annual catch estimate is 27,600 tonnes. But since the harbour is dysfunctional and with the boats stuck, the current catch has come to nought. This begs the question: what about the number of fishermen and boats unregistered in the town?

Due to the closure of the harbour, fishermen told Dawn, most of them go to Gwadar port town to dock their boats after fishing, which is 132 km away. Although it is not cost-effective, fishermen have no other options. Sometimes they have to spend weeks in Gwadar while fishing.

Simultaneously, Gwadar’s fishermen themselves have been protesting for their legitimate rights in the wake of the development of the port town by China. Thousands of people, including fishermen, protested in Gwadar, in the heart of the port town, for their basic amenities. One of their demands was a right to go to sea. Fishermen, including those from Pasni, allege that the development of the port town is wiping them out from their ancestral lands as it has gotten difficult to fish even from Gwadar.

Journalist Siddique Baloch’s book, “Balochistan: Its Politics & Economics”, sheds light on the Pasni Fish Harbour. On question as to why it has not been rehabilitated it states: “The Zia-ul-Haq government had committed an economic crime against Balochistan by building the fish harbour on faulty structural design at a faraway place in Pasni.”

The reason, according to him is, that “the project director remotely supervised the work from Karachi.”

Balochistan’s former chief minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani had proposed reconstruction of Pasni Fish Harbour with all modern facilities at some other place in the area as the current harbour cannot be made functional.

Unfortunately Mr Alyani had to resign leaving the fate of the said proposal uncertain yet again.

It is high time the authorities get serious for rehabilitating the Pasni fish harbour soon. The coastal town that used to be a hub has now fallen on hard times.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 15th, 2021

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