By Hazaran Baloch
Tue, 11, 23

This week You! dives into the struggles faced by the fishermen of Balochistan as trawlers have taken over their livelihood…



As the sun rises, painting the water with its golden hues, the fishermen gather at a creek ‘Hoor’ where their livelihoods and dreams are intricately tied to the whims of the ocean. A ‘launch’ sets out on a journey, typically with around 20 fishermen. Among them, there is a cook, whose sole responsibility is to prepare meals for the fishermen, and a helmsman. Then, there’s the ‘Nahuda’ the sailor who leads the entire fishing expedition. His wages are slightly higher than the rest of the crew. Additionally, there’s a ‘Saring’ who oversees provisions, including 8 drums of diesel and 200 boxes of ice.

Once the launch is set, they begin their journey around noon. When they reach the middle of the sea, they deploy their nets. The launch remains stationary until the night falls, and then they start the process of extracting the fish from the nets, working tirelessly until 10 of the following morning. To stay awake during this process, they have music playing loudly, ensuring they don’t succumb to sleep. The caught fish are then stored in iceboxes. Following this, the launch moves to another location in the sea, and this cycle continues for 20 to 30 days.

Fishermen employ various methods and nets to catch different types of fish, each with its own distinct season. The variety of fishes they catch includes kingfish, sole fish, black and white pomfret, sardines, Indian mackerel, shrimp, lobsters, jellyfish, sea cucumbers, mud crabs, and many more, with each catch requiring a specific type of net.

Pasni, a coastal city in Balochistan, is situated along the Makran coast within the Gwadar District. It is home to approximately 94,000 people, and for 90 per cent of the population, their livelihoods are intricately tied to the sea. Fishing serves as their primary and most significant source of income.

While growing up, I watched my cousin, who was very young when he lost his father to the sea, embark on the same perilous journey. For people in our coastal community, this was often the only option for earning a living, despite the risks. “In the beginning, I despised the sea. Whenever I thought of my father and saw the vastness of the ocean, I would feel sick. Even the sailor of the boat (Nahuda) told me that the journey was too tough, and I wouldn’t survive this sea life. Some days, I believed him, and I was tempted to return home. But then I thought of my mother, my younger siblings - how could I let them go hungry? I persevered through those days of sickness, and in a moment, I felt an unbreakable bond with the sea. This sea is our dignity, our only means of survival. I refused to return home empty-handed, knowing that this sea would not let us starve. Today, after many years, I am a Nahuda, a skilled and experienced sailor,” narrated my cousin.

The recent challenge faced by the people of the Makran coast is the presence of trawlers. These large vessels pull massive nets behind them to catch fish, targeting both surface and deep-sea fish. Trawlers are equipped with three engines, generators, diesel, and ice, enabling them to move at high speeds. Their swift movement often results in collisions with local fishermen’s boats leading to damage and breakage of these vessels.

Trawlers, unlike local fishermen, use various types of nets indiscriminately, regardless of the fish’s seasonal availability. This indiscriminate approach threatens marine life, as they are caught regardless of their breeding seasons. In contrast, local fishermen take care not to catch young and vulnerable fish, aiming to preserve marine ecosystems.

Mehjir, a 51-year-old seasoned local fisherman, reflects on his decades-long experience. At the age of 14, he first ventured into the world of fishing alongside his sailor father. Over the years, his unwavering determination and enduring spirit led him to become a skilled sailor. He recounts a challenging incident from 2020 when his nets were stolen by trawlers. This setback left him and his fellow fishermen empty-handed, and the financial blow was substantial. Nets are expensive, and the loss was difficult to overcome. As a result, he has chosen to fish cautiously, opting for one-day journeys with just three other fishermen in a small boat. This allows him to stay closer to safety, reducing the risk of encountering trawlers. At this stage in his life, he cannot afford further losses and seeks to safeguard what remains of his livelihood.

A local fish trader in Pasni, Rahim Dad, shares the economic hardships faced by the community due to the trawlers’ activities. He recalls a time when the region boasted a high abundance of white and black pomfret, lobsters, Indian mackerel, and other seafood. However, recent years have seen a decline in their catch.

The trawlers, equipped with massive nets, pose a significant threat to the entire fish population. Moreover, these trawlers enter the sea illegally, exacerbating the problem. As a result, local fish traders are burdened with debt, and the once-thriving Indian mackerel season has been adversely affected. Many of the local fishermen and sailors who used to supply fish to various companies in Balochistan and Karachi are now facing significant losses.

Bakshi, a local sailor in Pasni, describes the disheartening experience of local fishermen. When they set out for fishing in the morning, they often witness the sea teeming with fish, which boosts their spirits and energy. However, when it’s time to haul in their nets, they find that they have captured only a few fish. This is because the trawlers have effectively depleted the fish population.

Local fishermen typically work 12-hour shifts, whereas trawlers operate with a larger crew - 40 men. This continuous 24-hour operation leads to the near depletion of fish stocks, leaving little for the local fishermen to catch. As a result, they often return empty-handed, despite their hard work and dedication.

Allah Baksh, a fisherman, highlights the challenging reality faced by many in the fishing community. Despite having expenses at home, their livelihoods are often meagre. On days when their catch is exceptionally low, they don’t earn anything, and this financial struggle affects everyone involved, from the launch owner to the sailor, and ultimately to the fishermen themselves. The uncertainties in the fishing industry caused by trawlers make it difficult for them to cover their basic expenses and sustain their families.

The fishermen and the local community are urging the fisheries department to take stringent action against trawlers that openly encroach upon the Makran sea. They emphasise that this issue is not only harming marine life but also affecting the lives of thousands of people along the Makran coast, who depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Despite their appeals, it appears that no concrete action has been taken against the trawlers, leaving the local fishing community in a state of uncertainty and distress.