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New deep-sea fishing policy

It would help increase the foreign exchange earnings from the seafood

By Syed M. Aslam
July 16 - 22 , 2001

First, the salient features of the Deep-sea Fishing Policy announced by the President's adviser on agriculture, Shafi Niaz, on the second of this month. It allows the two-and-half dozen foreign deep-sea fishing trawlers to renew their licenses cancelled on September 25 last year. In addition, the government had also decided to restrict the number of foreign fishing trawlers to 20 and number of high-priced tuna trawlers to a maximum of 50.

It may be remembered that of the 30 trawlers previously granted licenses to deep-fish only one was Pakistani the rest comprising 10 South Korean and Chinese trawlers each plus nine Taiwanese.

The Deep-sea fishing policy not only announced heavier penalties for violating the rules, mandatory installation of global positioning satellite to ensure the deep-sea fishing trawlers are operating beyond the 35 mile limit so as to avoid any conflict with smaller traditional fishermen. It has also increased the license fee from Rs 200,000 a vessel to Rs 1 million a vessel per year. The penalty for violating the 35-200 mile exclusive economic zone is increased from Rs 200,000 to Rs 1 million. Similarly, trawlers found engaged in deep-sea fishing within the exclusive economic zone will now have to pay a much higher penalty of Rs 2 million instead of Rs 200,000 previously.

Failure to furnish report or information about the catch will now be liable to a penalty of Rs 25,000 per cruise instead of Rs 10,000 previously. The penalty of Rs 50,000 a vessel has also been increased to Rs 300,000 on egg-laden shrimp and lobsters. The penalty for failure to have customs check at the ports has also been increased from Rs 50,000 or confiscation of fish, or both, to Rs 1 million to ensure that all fish catch is duly reported. Similarly, fish export through improper channel now carries a penalty of Rs 1.5 million instead of Rs 600,000 per cruise.

The measures listed above show that the government intends to better its revenue, seafood production and exports. It also shows that this time around the government mean business to exploit the seafood resources the majority of which lies unused at present in the absence of modern vessels, technologies and fishing gears irrespective whether its local or foreign. It also shows its inclination to best protect the interest of the local fishermen over 4,000 boats and hundreds of thousands of people are employed by the Karachi fishing industry either directly or indirectly by resorting to enhanced penalties and fines.

The important question is: How effectively the policy is implemented? And secondly, and as important, does the government has the means and ways as well as the funds to see that the deep-sea fishing trawlers, not known to obey the rules in the past, will follow the rules this time around.

Surely, the new policy announced three operating flights weekly compared to the existing once a week at present for surveillance. This will be monitored by the Maritime Security Agency (MSA). This means that the MSA has a increase the number of aerial patrols requiring enhanced manpower, aircraft and of course budget over an area which is too big.


Hanif Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Seafood Industries Association which represents seafood processors and exporters at the Karachi Fisheries, expressed serious concerns at the policy which now allows deep-sea fishing. He said that big deep-sea trawlers have been contributing only a small percentage to the total seafood exports from the country and yet they have been allowed to play a much greater role in the new policy which goes against the very interest of hundreds of traditional fishermen.

Despite contributing an average of no more than $ 10 million to the total seafood exports which touched $172 million a few years ago, the deep sea trawlers have now been seen fit to be granted licenses, a move which would prove to be highly damaging for the marine ecology. These trawlers equipped with latest fishing gear have the capacity to net all species of seafood irrespective of their sizes to do an irreparable damage to marine life which would cost us dearly in the near future, he cautioned.

He said that the long standing demand of the traditional fishermen to ban deep-sea fishing has now resulted in earning them more trouble by making deep-sea fishing a permanent fixture of the local fishing industry. He compared the policy to 'slaughtering the goat for want of a steak' meaning 'short term gains for long term pains.'

Hanif expressed apprehensions that the policy would not only encourage foreign operators to exploit the massive seafood resources of the country at minimal costs but would also give them a fearsome incompetitive edge over the traditional fishermen whose smaller 50-70 Gross registered tonnage boats, and gears, can hardly match their technologically superior foreign counterparts.

In addition, past experiences clearly indicate that the relevant authorities have never been able to ward off the foreign trawlers off the exclusive economic zones, and sometimes even within the 35 mile limit. What's the guarantee that it would not happen again? He also expressed concerns that the policy would adversely affect seafood production and export as foreign trawlers are equipped with onboard freezing and packaging plants to facilitate exports irrespective of their location in the highseas. This will mean the end of processing plant concept here in the country the sole beneficiary of which will be the foreign deep-sea fishing operators not only the illegal ones but also the ones granted license by the government.

Commodore Syed Tayyab Naqvi, the chairman of Fishermen's Cooperative Society, feels the 35 mile limit is not expected to create any particular problem for the traditional fishing industry. He, however, added that much depends on effectively the policy is implemented. He told PAGE that seafood exports for the fiscal ended June 30 is expected to increase over 7 per cent over the last year- from $ 139.5 million to $ 150 million.

Justifying the lifting of traditional two-month fishing ban 20-days earlier this year July 10 instead of July 31 he said that it was aimed at lessening the financial woes of thousands of fishermen who depend solely on fishing for their livelihood. Secondly, he added, there is no scientific method to determine when a ban should be imposed and what its duration should be. Even the technically qualified professionals seem to have a difference of opinion on this issue as various species of fish have different spawning periods over the year.

Commodore Naqvi refused to impact about the implications of the new deep-sea fishing policy choosing to say only that it would help increase the foreign exchange earnings from the seafood and that much remains to conditional to how effectively the policy is implemented.