The project was opposed
mainly by fishermen community from the very beginning
By Syed M. Aslam
July 26 - August 1, 1999
On July 4 last year US based company Forbes signed an agreement with
the Board of Investment, Government of Pakistan, to invest $ 460 million over three years
in the fisheries sector. The agreement was hailed as a major achievement by the
A year later today, both the government and the Forbes agree that the
much trumpeted agreement remains unimplemented and is dead for all practical purposes.
Signed in a haste, the agreement which envisaged development of a modern deep-sea fishing
fleet and fishing port and complex at Gwadar or Pasni in Balochistan, faced many
difficulties from the very beginning.
The agreement provoked massive resentment among the traditional
fishermen of the country who viewed it as a threat to their livelihood. Though Forbes was
allowed to operate beyond the twelve miles of coastal waters reserved for traditional
small-scale fishing plus an additional eight mile stretch, the fishermen said that the
mechanization would result in depletion of fish stocks and threaten their livelihood.
From day-one the fishing community, not only of Balochistan but also in
Sindh, opposed the Forbes project expressing concerns that induction of modern vessels
equipped with the latest fish finding gadgets and netting gears would wipe out not only
the fish stocks but also breeding grounds. The traditional fishermen felt that the
over-capacity would result in over-fishing to pose a threat to the fish stock.
The traditional fishermen, majority of which, fish in the 12 nautical
mile zone though a small number of vessels can travel as far away as 50 miles, said that
the chemical pollutants from the factories and the port and human waste dumped into sea
plus the illegal netting of fish and shrimp in and around creeks, breakwaters and
mangroves, the primary fish breeding grounds, have taken a heavy toll on the local fishing
industry. Not only it is destroying the breeding grounds but the fish have travelled much
farther away from the shore with the result that commercial fishermen have to go farther.
This has drastically increased the hauling cost of the catch.
Moreover, more and more fishermen are competing for the catch in the
traditional 12-mile zone around Karachi which is obvious from the induction of 1,500 new
vessels in the fishing fleet during the last three years. The traditional mode of fishing
in Pakistan is seen as a blessing in disguise for the local fishing industry as it helps
minimize the depletion of stocks in the territorial waters.
The Balochistan Assembly expressed reservation about the project as
being detrimental to the traditional fishermen and opposed the housing of the Forbes
project in the province. On its part, Forbes failed to prepare the feasibility report
within six month as per Article 3 of the agreement which fell due on January 4 this year.
The failure to meet the deadline for the preparation of the feasibility report was
highlighted by the PAGE in its issue No.9 this year.
The uncertainty about the Forbes project has recently been echoed in
the Parliament. Information minister, Mushahid Hussain replying to a question on the floor
said that "Forbes agreement is dead." It has also resulted in sudden emergence
of two representatives of the company, namely Managing Director Haider Ali Qazilbash and
Ms Uzma Khan, to issue a press release that the project yet remains unimplemented.
They emphasized that since pelagic and demersel species of fish are
migratory, the unimplemetation of the project would deprive Pakistan a substantial revenue
as they would end up in the nets of fishermen of one of many neighbouring countries.
Qazilbash has blamed the unnecessary backlash by the environmentalists
obstructing the environmental impact study and the bureaucratic hurdles to go ahead with
the first vital step towards the implementation of the project, the environmental impact
PAGE attempts to locate the evasive local representatives of the
company plus a questionnaire faxed to the chairman and chief executive of Forbes and
Company, Lucien Edward Forbes, remained unreplied. However, one thing is certain
"the $ 460 million investment will not be coming to Pakistan anymore."
The project was not only opposed by the fishermen but also the seafood
processors and exporters who said that a modern fishing fleet like Forbes will mean
decreasing catch by the traditional fishing industry which in turn will result in reduced
supply to them.
The agreement had granted rights to Forbes to catch 200,000 mesopelagic
fish an anchovies like specie whose global production is almost non-existent and
which otherwise runs its life-cycle without benefitting Pakistan. Forbes was ready to
bring in the highly sophisticated hauling equipment to catch this particular variety of
fish which is only 1 to 1 1/2 inch long and its catching requires fine mesh which will
definitely trap all other fish as it is found at a much higher depths of 50-500 meters, he
The cancellation of the agreement has not drawn any sympathy or support
for the Forbes. Even the biggest supporter and the facilitator of the agreement, the Board
of Investment, remains silent to defend it.