KARACHI: “June and July are the months when there is a ban on fishing, but despite the reduction in this ban by a month, no one here is going out to sea to catch fish at the moment due to the extraordinarily high cost of fuel,” said former director general of the Marine Fisheries Department, Moazzam Khan, who also happens to be one of the leading fisheries scientists of the country.

He was speaking at a multi-stakeholder dialogue and report launch on the ‘Plight of fisherfolk and workers in the seafood sector in South Asia’ organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Pakistan Kisan Rabita Committee (PKRC), Labour Education Foundation (LEF) and South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) at a local hotel here on Wednesday.

He said that fisherfolk had been facing all kinds of issues including poverty that had resulted in a 40 to 50 per cent reduction in fishing here. “The fuel issue could have been helped somewhat if we had turned to fish farming but we don’t do it for reasons unknown,” he added.

“Bangladesh has been doing it but we are not in the mood to do it. We have the space, we have the expertise but we are not in the mood,” he said sarcastically.

Use of banned nets affects 80pc production of local fish

“Right now we are over exploiting our fish resources by increasing our fleet of fishing boats as the federal government awards boat engines and licences one after the other while the number of boats we have in reality ought to be reduced by half. Recently, there has been a 700 per cent increase of boats in Balochistan, which is resulting in over-fishing there. In foreign countries, when you make a new boat, you surrender the licence of an old boat, but out here we talk of increasing potential in fishing even though you don’t have the fish,” he said.

“Our fish is exported to China and to Vietnam, too. This is the same thing since from Vietnam it is smuggled to China. It is also exported to Malaysia, Thailand and Gulf countries. Europe doesn’t want our fish. All this talk about Europe lifting the import ban is not true. For that matter America also doesn’t want our fish. And Pakistan’s own per capita consumption of fish is the lowest in the world thanks to certain myths that fish carries hot effects for the human body or it is not advisable to have fish in months which have an ‘R’ in their names, etc,” he said.

Karamat Ali of Piler said that Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and most of the eight Saarc countries have their fisheries. “It would also be interesting to see what are the rights of each country’s fishermen. How far they can go out into the sea? Because there is also the issue of their crossing over to another country when at sea,” he said.

Netra Prasad Timsina of SAAPE spoke about the global and South Asian campaign on fair value chain. “There have been supply chain disruptions due to Covid-19. Then there is also the rupee-dollar disparity making earning less and inflation high, which is the crux of the problem. For example, there is Sri Lanka that is buried in debt and inflation. Their people are losing jobs, their children are malnourished. In many places, there are no rights to form unions and there is a lack of social security. So what is the way out?” he wondered aloud.

Habibullah Niazi of the Sindh Trawlers Owners and Fishermen Association (Stofa) said that the rise in fuel costs had endangered fisheries. “It is off season now so you don’t hear much noise regarding this matter, but it will affect our exports and the 1.8 million to two million families dependent on fisheries here,” he said.

“But none of our governments have ever been interested in fisheries. Here no one cares to check what kind of nets is being used in fishing or on the harmful methods of catching fish. The use of banned nets has affected the production of 80 per cent of our local fish such as mackerel, white pomfret and red snapper as they have hurt their nurseries. The too many fishing boats have also contributed to the shortage of fish. Another problem is pollution as we are sending untreated waste into the sea,” he said.

“There is a need for government polices to help our fisheries department. There is a need for an expert to look into all these things that are hurting our fishing industry,” he said.

Majid Motani, a representative of fisherfolk, said that Pakistan’s fisheries were on a ‘ventilator’.

He said with the government’s issuing of licences to more and more fishing boats there was pressure on Sindh fisheries. “So the registration of the boats should be done where there is the sea not at the federal level,” he said.

“Sindh is still rich in seafood resources as compared to Balochistan. Even now if we take care of our nurseries and don’t allow the use of the close-knitted banned nets and fishing there, our resources will increase. But sadly, there are no checks there,” he said.

“Boats burn more fuel than cars. As the fishing season will open in August, many boats won’t be able to go out to sea because of expensive diesel. We need a strong policy to remedy all these ills,” he added.

Problems of fisherfolk women

Representing fisherfolk women, Fatima Majid also said that they were not doing too great either. “There was a time when our women used to work with our men, cleaning the fish before taking it to the market, mending fishing nets, etc. But now, climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in fuel costs are all also impacting our lives,” she said.

“Now 60 to 70 per cent of our womenfolk go to work in factories or they find work as maids in homes. Many make and sell pickles or poppadom as after the pandemic, those who were working in factories also lost their jobs and they don’t even have social security. There are also the families of the fishermen languishing in Indian jails. The children in those families are malnourished and they stop going to school as well. Therefore, I would also say that there is a need for a fisheries policy that can help solve all these issues.

Zehra Khan of Home-Based Women Workers Federation, Social activist Aabida Ali and Nasir Mansoor of National Trade Union Federation also spoke.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2022

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