Every year, the government imposes a two-month ban on catching shrimp during the months of June and July. The ban is put in place to help replenish the shrimp resources along the coast of Pakistan.
Elderly fishermen call this (two-month) season favourable for catching precious fish species, locally known as seri, suwa, morr mangro (Spadenose shark) and others, whose market value is high.
Only a few larger boats move to the deep sea for a short trip to catch larger fish using special fishing nets. The rest of the boats stay anchored at along the jetties throughout the ban for repair and maintenance work to begin the next fishing season starting the first week of August. Routine maintenance includes paint jobs, woodwork, and motor repairs of boats, while nets and other fishing equipment is also taken care of.
Catching seri and other larger fish requires experience and technique. The crew put fishing net in the open sea during rough weather. Inexperienced people cannot take the risk of even anchoring the fishing vessels in the rough waters, activists said.
Previously, these fish species were common in creeks and small waters along the beaches. But now, with rising pollution the species have been pushed back into the open waters further from the coast. Marine pollution has also created hurdles for fishermen, especially those working closer to the coast.
Fishing boats capable of accessing deep sea, especially rough waters, enable these fishermen to earn a better income from the market.
Nawaz Dablo, a crew member and community activist from Dabla Muhalla of Rehri Mayan village in the outskirts of Karachi, said if a boat brings 100kg of valuable seri in a trip they can earn at least Rs100,000. Presently, the market value of seri is around Rs1,000-Rs1,200/per kilo. Its weight ranges from 4kg to 10kg or more, depending on its health and size.
Quoting elderly people, Dablo said, “Seri, when it was common along the beaches and in the creeks, was used for domestic consumption as well. The rest was sold in the market for sale. But now, despite high demand for this fish, fishermen did not find it in the creeks.”
He blamed pollution for depleting a majority of these commercially valuable marine species.
Therefore, they travel to catch these fish from the open sea, despite rough weather during these two months- June and July, he added.
Akhtar Shaikh, another community activist from the same neighbourhood said like seri, suwa and morr mangro were also favourite fish for the community people, who enjoyed delicious food during these two months. They always wait to catch this fish because increasing marine pollution has destroyed its natural habitats along the creeks.
He said the fish harbour, main market and all processing units had shut their trade following the restrictions imposed by the provincial government due to the breeding season. But some outside investors, other than fishermen, do not abide by the law and move their boats to the deep sea for fish catch.
Talking about the ban by the European Union on Pakistan’s sea food, community activists said that it was pollution and unhygienic conditions at the harbour, which have led the European Union to impose a ban on Pakistani seafood some years back. The ban is still in place, they said, adding that the situation might worsen further and bring a bad name to the nation due to the destruction of natural resources.
Asif Bhatti of Bhit Island in Karachi confirmed some rare species in the open sea, which have high demand in the market. But due to restrictions following the annual ban, the island people abide by the law and do not operate their boats.
Compared to that, certain outside investors are being allowed to catch fish, despite the ban, he complained.
“It is not fair a deal by the authorities that indigenous fishermen are being compelled to sit idle despite the fact they have options to catch such species like seri, suwa, morr mangro and others for their survival,” he said.
He pointed out that marine pollution has been wiping out fish productivity, despite the fact it is a major component to provide a source of livelihood to fishermen residing along the 129km area of Karachi coast.
He said local jetties located across the entire province do not have facilities and were turning into cesspits, creating hurdles for the community people and traders in handling fish catch safely. Moving fish from the jetties to the market or onto vehicles has become hazardous.
It was learned that there was only one government-run jetty in Ibrahim Hydri village, while all over the province families operate their private jetties, providing access to local boats and its crews for handling seafood.
Khuda Ganj, a community activist from Mubarak Village, sharing sea borders with Balochistan near Hawkesbay, said pollution has compelled picnickers to move to other beaches, as all the scenic beaches along the coastline of Karachi were receiving waste through different channels.
He pointed out that while the picnickers had a choice to change their location, the community people residing along the coast did not have that luxury. “They cannot move to safer places,” he added.
Majeed Motani, a community elder in Ibrahim Hydri said policymakers do not stop dumping of waste by garbage trucks from all over the city. These people have found beaches near the villages, where they burn waste causing pollution, he informed.Pollution is not only killing valuable fish near beaches and creeks but also causing health problems for the residents near the coast.
Elderly fishermen fear that if the trend of dumping garbage and releasing industrial and municipal waste continue, it might compel the residents living in the villages through centuries to migrate to other safer places.
He pointed out that health issues have also increased among the community, something which was impossible to measure from a distance. Coastal people are suffering from chronic diseases such as asthma, skin ailments, etc, he added.
Activists blame government negligence towards the sector for the worsening situation. They also hold investors responsible for destroying the fish trade, which has compelled indigenous people to sit idle at homes without a job.
The writer is a staff member