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The fishing ban

  1. New trade policy
  2. The fishing ban
  3. Budget: Mixed reactions
  4. Water crisis in Pakistan agriculture

The ban is primarily aimed at protecting the baby shrimp in the creeks

By SYED M. ASLAM
Jul 03 - 09, 2000

Shrimp is to seafood what cotton is to the overall exports of Pakistan. Though in terms of quantity shrimp's share in the total seafood exports was only 21 per cent in 1998, 60 per cent of the entire earnings from the seafood exports came from it. This, however, is not a detached example as Pakistani seafood exports has always had a strong shrimp-lead base. The importance of shrimp to the seafood exports of Pakistan can hardly be over-emphasised. It also highlights the need for the development of sustainable growth of shrimp.

A cursory glance at the quantities of shrimp catch over the years show that shrimp production has increased by over 35 per cent between 1971 to 1998 — from 19,821 metric tonnes to 26,204 tonnes respectively. However, a closer analysis of these statistics show that though the overall shrimp production has increased substantially, the production of the premier quality of big shrimp, Jaira in local dialect, has declined by over 46 per cent during three decades. The increase in shrimp catch has been made possible primarily due only to the fact that more and more low-priced kiddi shrimp is being netted while the landings of Jaira has been on constant decline and is feared to head towards a total collapse.

Pakistani seafood industry is under heavy threat of acute degradation, and possible collapse, if measures are not taken on the top priority basis to address the disturbing issue regarding the ever decreasing catch of big-sized and premium priced shrimp variety, Jaira. Afterall, shrimp traditionally contribute the massive share in the overall seafood exports from the country.

The kiddy landings have increased almost five-fold since 1971. This looks good on the surface but when one takes a look at the statistics of the year-wise shrimp landings during last three-decades it show a disturbing trend which still fails to draw the attention of the policy makers and relevant authorities.

The production of Kiddi has been increased by almost five-fold since 1971 while the production of Jaira has declined drastically by 47 per cent during the same year. Not only the quantity of catch is on a decline but experts say that the size of Jaira has also been shortened due to excess fishing due to various factors which are discussed in this article later.

A two-month ban on all fishing activities in Sindh, one of two provinces beside Balochistan to be gifted with the coastal areas in Pakistan, is observed in June and July for decades. The ban is primarily aimed at protecting the baby shrimp in the creeks to help them develop into full-grown shrimps. Many feel that the ban serves no useful purpose, lacks any scientific proof and fosters only unrest among thousands of fishermen in Sindh, particularly Karachi which is the hub of fish production, processing and export activities. They also feel that depriving these thousands of fishermen their livelihood for two months every year could hardly be justified as it takes heavy socio-economic toll on a large number of people.

Abolish the Ban

The chairman of Fishermen's Co-operative Society, Commodore Syed Tayyab Naqvi, strongly feel that the complete fishing ban in June and July does not serve any purpose except denying thousands of fishermen their livelihood for two full months a year. Commodore Naqvi who is also the head of the Karachi Fish Harbour Authority, said that in 1998 Sindh contribution to the total fish production nationwide was about 67 per cent, followed by 30 per cent by Balochistan while the rest came from the inland fishing in various parts of Punjab and NWFP provinces. Marine and inland fishing in Sindh both contribute a significant share to the fish production in the country and thus none can be overlooked at the cost of the other, he added

He said that the ban on fishing activities in Sindh during June and July which is primarily aimed to protect the shrimp juveniles serves no useful purpose. The spawning season, he said, starts in the months of November and December in the shallow waters. After the spawning the micro-size shrimp babies finds their way into the creeks and mangroves where further development takes place. Sindh, he said, offers an excellent breeding grounds for shrimp as mangroves in the Indus Delta are spread over 600,000 acres which make it the seventh largest mangroves area in the world.

Since both sea and fresh water are both necessary for the existence of mangroves, the Indus Delta makes it possible to have Sindh a large mangrove areas which could not be find in Balochistan which has no such deltas. The presence of this vast area of mangrove in Sindh thus provide an extremely productive in Sindh, he added.

Explaining the development process of shrimp, Tayyab said that the baby shrimps remain in creeks and mangroves for full three months upto March till they attain the juvenile status. Once this status is achieved the shrimp population moves to the deeper water away from the creeks and the mangroves to attain the full adulthood which ultimately comes in June and July — the traditional months of fishing ban in the province. Does it makes sense to continue the fishing ban in these months, Tayyab asked.

He also provided the answer by saying that experts seem to contradict themselves whether the ban serves any purpose. For instance, he said, those who say that the fishing ban is necessary as it helps sustain shrimp stocks also suggest that if the government chose to impose a year-round ban on the fishing within three-mile from the seashore there would be no need for two-month ban every year. These experts negate their own argument, Tayyab added.

Secondly, he said, thousands of fishermen in Sindh who have been plying their trade for decades say that shrimps of Indus Basin flows to the seashore in the monsoon season during June and July due to the ocean currents. They start flowing back inland after this period and the ban thus deprives the fishermen of livelihood at a great cost to the national economy. The lifting of the ban can help turn this loss into substantial source of revenue not only for the benefit of thousands of fishermen but also for the economy of the country.

Tayyab said that looking at the problem from organisation and management angle plus the conflicting views of the experts and the logic of traditional fishermen influenced him to make recommendations to the provincial government that there should not be a ban on fishing during June and July. Tayyab said that creeks are the nurseries of shrimps and thus should be protected fully in spite of the massive ongoing violations.

In addition, Tayyab said the ban which deprives thousands of fishermen in Sindh of their livelihood also reflects an inter-provincial conflict as it is imposed in Sindh alone while Balochistan imposes no such restriction to allow year-round fishing activities. Why this inter-provincial discrepancy between two provinces of the same country, he asked. If shrimp fishing in June and July is bad for the government of Sindh why its not so for the government of Balochistan? The issue should be discussed without adhocism on scientific analysis and experts' debate to reach the logical conclusion for the two coastal provinces of the country.

This is all the more imperative, he said, as the lack of resources to effectively implement the ban is resulting in massive violations of the ban across Sindh. Though it is stopped at the Karachi fishing harbour which does not allow any of some 2,000 trawlers to leave the berths, shrimp catching goes on unabated and unchecked. Shrimps landings keep pouring into the market and the seafood processing factories from not only from Sindh despite the ban but also from Balochistan where there is no such ban, he added.

Tayyab said that he would like the National Institute of Oceanography at Clifton, Karachi to become involved in commercial fisheries project. The Institute equipped with state-of-the-art equipments and highly qualified scientific professionals should try to solve the issue on merit alone for once and all. He informed PAGE that 40 per cent of all seafood catch is wasted in the country due to absence of inadequate storage facility. "We need quantitative as well as qualitative increase in seafood exports. Though illiterate, our fishermen are intelligent enough to be easy trained to learn the basic storage and hygienic handling of seafood catch at every stage to improve the quality of seafood to fetch better prices in the international market. Some 10 weeks ago I initiated a week long training for the fishermen and have trained some 1,300 fishermen while another 650 are now on the waiting list," Tayyab added.

The ban should continue

The Director General of Marine Fisheries Department, Moazzam Khan, said that the drastic reduction in the landings of jaira and five-fold increase in the catch of kiddi is an indication that the fishing industry of Pakistan is heading towards a collapse which may happen overnight. Trends also show that the size of jaira shrimp is getting smaller and smaller thus depriving the country huge amounts of foreign exchange in export earnings as the price of shrimp is basically size-driven.

This of course can be avoided by taking all of the following measures on top priority basis. There were only two fishing trawlers in Karachi in 1955 which increased to 668 in 1971 and some 2,500 at present; of which 2,500 operates out of Karachi Fish Harbour and another 500 from Ibrahim Hydry, a fishing village in Korangi. Does the increase in the number of trawlers makes any economic sense?

No, says Moazzam. The per year (actually 10 months excluding June and July) per trawler shrimp landings at Karachi have declined from 15 tonnes in 1971 to a just 2.12 tonnes at present. Does this six-fold increase in the number of trawlers between 1971 and 1998 make an economic sense, asked Moazzam.

There are three types of over-fishing — growth, reproductive and environmental — all of which require different proofs. For instance, the proof of growth over-fishing is the smaller size of composition and grade as has been the case with all the three major varieties of shrimps — jaira, kalri and kiddi. A continuation of the growth over-fishing results into reproductive over-fishing which simply means that there would be not enough females, or males) to reproduce progeny. In the next stage there would be no commercial quantities left threatening the very collapse of certain seafood species fishing and this is what has happened to our shrimp, Moazzam warned. While environmental pollution which is not conducive for fish growth is also a major problem faced by many countries around the world it is the problems of growth and reproductive over-fishing which is seriously threatening our shrimp stocks.

Moazzam stressed that it is imperative to continue the ban till the government comes out with the regulation which it agreed in 1998 to outlaw fishing within the three-mile zone from the coastline throughout the year. Till the announcement of such a regulation the ban should continue as fishing continues unabated despite the ban. He said that there is no difference among the marine experts that the ban on fishing will ensure adequate measures to sustain shrimp stocks irrespective of its not being implemented at all and particularly it is violated during March and April when the shrimp poaching at the mouth of creeks, though legal, does not allow the juveniles to reach to deeper waters to attain their fullest maturity to fetch a much better price, he added.

Year-wise Shrimp Landings
(In Metric Tons)

Year

Jaira
(Large)

Kalri
(Medium)

Kiddi
(Small)

Total

1971 10,000 6,080 3,741 19,821
1992 5,397 8,238 12,693 26,328
1993 6,820 9,468 18,632 34,920
1994 6,021 7,120 16,023 29,164
1995 5,723 6,981 12,919 25,623
1996 6,123 7,602 14,047 27,772
1997 6,115 6,801 16,722 29,638
1998 5,311 6,204 14,689 26,204
Source Marine Fisheries Department

(To be continued next week)