Community-based fisheries management

Published January 15, 2007

Pakistan is situated in an arid and dry region but the mighty Indus and its tributaries have helped create an extensive and contiguous irrigation system and an agri-based economy including fisheries which contributes more 2 3 per cent to the GDP.

The changing course of the river system and its offshoots has given rise to the extensive wetlands stretching from the mountainous regions of north and west to the alluvial plains in east and south . These wetlands range from big lakes and reservoirs to seasonal ponds and marshes and provide the major fisheries resources.

These resources comprising rivers, streams, canals, drains, lakes, reservoirs, water-logged areas, deltaic area, flood water areas and fish farms etc. make up a total of more than 8.5 million hectares. Besides these, the marine resources comprise 250000 sq km having a 1120 km long coastline with very productive continental shelf and provide a unique ecosystem owing to the large mangrove forests, which are being reduced at a high rate due to a variety of reasons including pollution, forest cutting for fuel wood and grazing; the big threat being the commercial exploiation.

These wetlands in one way or the other do support a big chunk of fishermen. About 0.4 million people directly and almost equal number indirectly depend on fisheries sector. The fisher folk bodies claim that the number of fishermen is around three million. Along the coast and in the deltaic area, a large population lives and fishing is the only means of their livelihood

But fisheries sector has been given the right priority despite the fact that it earns a considerable amount of foreign exchange and has an immense potential for increasing exports. The fish and fish preparations are among top 20 export items and the second among primary commodity category exports after rice. During 2004, a total of 90,225 metric tons of fish and fishery products were exported to earn Rs7.6 billion.

On the whole, fish production in the recent years has not been . The production is not more than a half million tons- both from the capture and culture. The national output is gradually declining whereas the average global fish production is increasing and the world per capita fish consumption is now at 16.2 kg. It is less than two kg in Pakistan although it has much better potential. As per European Commission report, Pakistani fisheries sector has the potential to bring in $1 billion annually through exports.

There have been many impediments to the growth of fisheries sector including the non-identification of true potentials, unfavourable policies and outdated practices, non-implementation of regulations and non-participatory approaches etc.

Coupled with the use of harmful nets catching very thing- big or small, edible or inedible, fish or shrimp, protected or endangered species, associated or dependent species or any other organism affects proliferation of biodiversity leading to un-sustainability of resources.

Political influence, law and order situation, absence of skills in concerned institutions , paucity of operational funds and insufficient physical facilities hinder the success of the existing systems.

An important aspect is the absence of participation of the major stake holders, who in this case, are the poorest of the poor i.e. those living around wetlands, rivers and coastline. The Mohana or Mirbahar who were the rulers of the land, have now become beggars. FAO’s “Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries” while emphasising on maintenance of the quality, diversity and availability of fishery resources in sufficient quantities in the context of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development also gives due recognition to the traditional practices, needs and interests of local fishing communities which are highly dependent on fishery resources for their livelihood.

The code goes little beyond and provides for consultation of coastal communities in decision-making processes in other activities related to coastal area management planning and development.

In a number of countries including Uganda and the Bangladesh not so different in socio-economic and demographic conditions, having almost same the size of water resources, the fish production is up by almost 400 per cent compared to Pakistan.

What makes this difference? A magic stick or a big foreign investment! obviously not. These countries provided various successful participatory fisheries management models to their fishermen. While slightly different, these practices create a sense of ownership in the members by making them responsible actors in natural resources management.

These practices could be different, natural resources management models can evolve for different water areas; say big lakes, rivers, streams, coastal areas and small impoundments etc. Initially it can be started at some key water bodies representing each type of water resource. \

The participatory approach is increasingly being adopted as a result- oriented approach in various sectors of the economy and its adoption in fisheries sector can prove to be more productive.

The community based fisheries management can help in achieving high growth of fisheries sector in general and restoring the potentials of depleted fisheries resources in particular.

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