Deep Sea Fishing in Troubled Waters
Deep-sea fishing offers immense potential for economic returns to all littoral states. India, surrounded by sea on three sides, has of late stepped up its efforts at deep-sea fishing, primarily because Indian sea-food offered an excellent export market. The co-operation of the Dutch government was sought and obtained and accordingly India received Dutch financial assistance for trawlers and other items necessary for deep sea fishing. But recently the Indo-Dutch co-operation in this field has run into shallow waters, with the Dutch government refusing to aid India, without carrying out a preliminary study on the latter's sea-food resources. India is yet to take a decision on the offer that was made as early as in October, 1981. R. Nair analyses "India's fishing in troubled waters".
The Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation has refused to finance any more trawlers for India from it's development aid funds, without a preceding "experimental fishing programme" on the seafood resources especially shrimps in the Indian deep-sea zone. It is of the opinion that more trawlers in excess to the nine already delivered should only be financed if such a programme shows positive results, indicating that economic returns from deep-sea fishing are possible. This is meant to prevent these big trawlers from fishing in the coastal waters where most prawns are found and conflicts with the interests of the traditional fishermen could arise.
This was done after a consortium of Indian shipbuilders and a Dutch shipyard reached an agreement for construction of deep-sea fishing trawlers. According to the projections of the Sixth Five Year Plan, 350 deep sea vessels would be needed by 1985. The government of India hopes to boost the country's haul of sea fish from 1.69 million tons in the year 1981-82, to 1.86 million tons in 1982-83.
The Indian government, in particular the ministry of agriculture, still has to take a decision on this Dutch proposal that was put forward in October, 1981. After consultations in December 1981 in New Delhi with a Dutch official, no decision was taken. Most probably the "trawler-issue" will be discussed again at the yearly Indo-Dutch aid spending negotiations in New Delhi later this year.
The proposal on experimental deepsea fishing came after the Indian government had rejected an earlier Dutch proposal, to have a Dutch evaluation mission look into the possible harmful effects of the extension of the fleet with big trawlers on the artisanal fishery sector. The latter proposal accompanied by suspending the financing of 8 shrimp-trawlers in May 1981, was the result of Indian and Dutch protests against these trawler-deliveries. These protests were voiced on the one hand in a letter to the Dutch minister of development cooperation by the "National Forum for Catamaran and Countryboat Fishermen's Rights and Marine Wealth", which is a representive body of 13 major regional traditional fishermen's unions in India. In the Netherlands the "India Committee of the Netherlands" - a solidarity organisation trying to support progressive movements in India spoke out against the planned trawler deliveries by the Dutch government.
Initially an investigation into the issue by a Dutch evaluation mission was accepted by the Indian government at the aid-spending negotiations in May 1981 in New Delhi, but finally it was rejected in July 1981 after a concrete programme of investigation was presented by the members of the mission. The main ground for rejection by the Indian government was, that they considered the investigation as meddling in internal Indian affairs. This was learnt from the present Dutch minister of development cooporation, Mr C. van Dijk, while answering questions on the issue by a member of the Dutch parliament. The Indian government was of the opinion that her sovereignty would be at stake, having an inquiry into her fisheries policy by a foreign mission.
The Indian government also wanted first to send reports on the fishery-sector themselves, before having a foreign mission. This has been done now, but the Dutch minister, reacting to another question stated that the information received from the Indian government on the possible conflicting interests of artisanal and industrial (shrimp) fisheries, was insufficient to take a decision on the financing of eight more trawlers. At the same time however the minister concluded that "it gives sufficient reason to propose to the Indian government a study on the fish resources, especially shrimps, in the deep sea..." This study was given the form of an "experimental deep-sea fishing programme."
This programme was a compromise born out of conflicting interests. On the one hand there has been quite a bit of diplomatic pressure by the Indian authorities on the Dutch government to finance the trawlers. The Netherlands is ofcourse afraid to endanger it's diplomatic and commercial relations with India on account of this issue. Especially now that the Netherlands is trying to broaden it's economic relations with India, using even more than earlier "aid" as a vehicle for this. Business interests are heavily weighing in the Dutch minister's new proposal on the "trawler-issue". Pressure of a more specific character in the same direction comes from Dutch shipyards who want to sell trawlers to India. On the other hand the Dutch ministry of development cooperation is under pressure of an
alert and critical public opinion, because of newspaper and magazine articles which were criticizing the minister for harming the poor, instead of helping them. The Dutch ministry of development cooperation, apart from possible concern for the traditional fishermen, wants of course to save it's face as aid is to given to the poor, as is the official policy. In the Netherlands this is quite an important political issue, even though aid is often used as a tool for export promotion.
The trawlers for which finance is suspended now, were planned to be built by shipyards in the Netherlands, as has been already the case with nine trawlers for whom contracts had already been signed in the beginning of 1981. Each of these trawlers costs around Rs. 7.5 million. According to a letter of the Dutch minister to the India Committee of the Netherlands, contracts for three first nine trawlers could not be cancelled because of "repercussions of breach of contract" and "the aspect of employment" in the Netherlands. Most of these trawlers have already arrived in India. Much more is however at stake for the Dutch shipyards in the trawler issue. There are plans or negotiations going on to build a big part of the 350 trawlers envisaged in the Indian Sixth Five Year Plan, in collaboration with Dutch shipyards. A number of these would be build in parts in the Netherlands and assembled in India, but most of them would be built in India by Indo-Dutch Joint ventures. The Dutch minister of development cooperation, reacting to a question on this by a member of parliament, admitted with some understatement that "there are the usual contracts in this field between Dutch and Indian industry".
Dutch business is worried at these developments. Dutch shipyards believe that the possible large trawler deal depends on a positive decision by the Dutch minister of development cooperation on the financing of light trawlers from aid-funds. In fact if they do not finance these eight trawlers, the Indian government will most probably refuse to allow commercial trawler contracts with Dutch shipyards. Officials at the Hague confirm this link.
This is the context in which the idea of an "experimental deepsea fishing programme" came up, using some of the 9 Netherlands built trawlers which have recently arrived in India. These privately owned trawlers are supposed to go out fishing in the deep-sea zone, having been guaranteed a sufficient rate of return in case the catch brought in less than that. They would work like this for a couple of months, after good briefings have been given by Indian fishery-research institutes. The programme further includes the provision of specific nets and gear for deep-sea fishing and possibly Dutch technical assistance.
According to a Dutch prawn-biologist, adviser to the Dutch ministry of development cooperation on this proposal, there are 14 different kinds of prawns to be caught in Indian waters and finding out if these can be caught in high enough quantities to make deep-sea fishing profitable, can only be done by "taking out" commercial vessels in deep-sea. Again according to this expert facts from fishery-surveys are only indicators and statistical averages over samples, but never proof that a commercial trawler will or won't catch enough to make profits. For this on the spot "trial and error experience" is necessary.
Experimental deep-sea fishing programme, is no-guarantee that the traditional fishermen will not suffer from the possible introduction of more trawlers. Even if some good catches can be made in the deep-sea, one is not sure whether big trawlers will enventually fish there as long as it is more profitable to fish in the coastal zone and as long as laws and regulatioos forbiddiog them to fish there, are not properly enforced. Take only the case of Goa, where the Marine Regulation Act of 1980 has not been fully implemented and where a chain-hunger-strike by traditional fishermen was being held for months in the first part of this year. The fact that not only smaller trawlers but also the big trawlers, fit for the deep-sea, are now mostly fishing in coastal waters is mentioned by numerous Indian and other sources. For example, even the deep-sea vessels already in operation seem to confine themselves to the coastal waters... (Economic Times, Saturday supplement On Fisheries, February, 28, 1981). Not only that, but it is common knowledge that prawn-catches along the Indian coast are declining rapidly and prawns are being overfished tremendously. The traditional fishing community, numbering six million people, suffer most from this because fishing is their only and often already meager source of existence.
For many years however, fishermen's unions in many different coastal states have been organizing people to improve living conditions for the fishing community. In 1918 the "National Forum for Catamaran and Countryboat Fisherman and Marine Wealth", a representative body of 13 major regional fishermen's unions, was formed. These fishermen's unions later coordinated by the "National Forum", have been protesting and struggling against the fishing of more than 16,000 mechanised boats and trawlers in the already optimally exploited coastal waters. Violent clashes have occurred. Their main demand was to have an exclusive fishing zone of 20 km from the coast, the traditional fishing grounds of artisanal fishermen reserved for the 200,000 non-mechanised fishing boats. A nation wide campaign was launched in 1978, which resulted in promises by the central government to draft a new Marine Bill, recognizing the legitimate demands of fishermen. Now in 1982 only a model bill has been sent to the states, 3 of whom have now enacted laws protecting traditional fishermen. In none of these and other states however, are these laws fully implemented. So it is clear that the fishermen's unions and its National Forum are still struggling to have laws enacted and carried out effectively.
The National Forum of Fishermen also put forward concrete ideas on appropriate farms of fishing technology, which are labour-intensive, not harmful to the ecology of the sea and income-distributive. These were put forward in the paper "Appropriate technology in the fishers sector in India" in 1980.
The "National Forum" also launched an internatIonal campaign against the export of sea-food from India, being one of the causes of reckless overfishing in shallow waters by trawlers and the
steep rise of fish prices in India.