Certain ‘influential persons’ – with assistance from hired thugs – are preventing fishing families in interior Sindh from catching fish in their local lakes, activists and fishermen have told The News.
One of the activists, Ramzan Mallah, says the armed men were deployed at the water bodies shortly after they were replenished by the recent monsoon rains. “The men have either driven the fishermen away or are forcefully buying their catch at fixed rates.”
According to him, there are more than 10,000 families living in scattered villages near these lakes, and nearly all of them are reliant on fishing for their livelihood.
The said fishing families were issued licenses by the government in 2010 to harvest the resources of the 13 natural lakes outside Chotiari Reservoir through a bill passed in the Sindh Assembly.
Only a few of these families possess boats, and a majority of the locals are forced to try their luck in shallower waters with just a net in hand. They wake up early in the morning daily so that can sell the day’s catch at the local market.
Abdul Rehman Mallah, a 74-year-old fisherman who hails from the village of Phulel near the Chotiari Reservoir, is the leader of a campaign against the old contract system launched by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) some five years ago.
Mallah squarely blamed government officials for these activities, accusing them of not wanting to take action against these ‘powerful persons’.
“These fishing families are the traditional custodians of these natural resources and have the right to catch these fish. But, whenever these waters are fed by rains, these people deploy their armed men and prevent us from fishing,” he said.
Mallah was reminiscent of the community’s struggle against the contract system, and remembered fondly the days after it was abolished. “But now, because of leniency by government officials, we have lost control of these lakes again.”
Meanwhile, Ishaq Meerani, a PFF activist from Kashmor, reported an almost identical situation in his district. Meerani claims that he has been receiving threats from landlords, but has refused to back down because he believes “this is their [the fishing families’] basic right”.
Meerani says these landlords have registered cases against his family remembers, as a pressure-tactic.PFF chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah told The News that his organisation has already announced a province-wide campaign against these activities. He appealed to the provincial government to observe the law, as poor fishermen were facing financial hardship.
“It is the responsibility of the fisheries department to implement the law strictly and protect the fishermen. The government should also assure provision of fish feed from government’s developed fish hatchery farms to benefit the community,” he said.
An official from the fisheries department, on condition of anonymity, has confirmed these reports and regretted that their department was unable to act.
“We cannot take action against these people because they enjoy support from politically powerful elements. Only the Fisheries Minister can talk about the situation,” he said. The fisheries minister was not available to comment on the issue.