Sunday December 05, 2021

Disruptive marine weather lowers catch for small-scale fishermen

September 16, 2018

HYDERABAD: The declining fish catch in September has disturbed Sindh’s fishermen, who are unable to recover even the cost of operating boats along the 350 kilometre provincial coastline.

September is a prosperous month for fishermen who catch more fish, adding to their stock on their traditional landing sites. But this year, the rough sea weather, that started in June and July has now extended to September, impacting marine life, a community activist said. “Usually violent tides start in June and July, which normalise up to August 15,” he added.

Information gathered from community activists from the coastline of Thatta and Sujawal’s Keti Bunder, Kharo Chhan and Shah Bunder areas reveals that this new phenomenon emerged quite recently during the month of September.

The two months of June and July are considered breeding season of the most important commercial species of shrimps, and the provincial government always bans fishing activities during the time to avoid loss of juvenile fish, and give rest to the sea.

The new fishing season starts on the first of August. After lifting of the ban crew members leave their local jetties on the boats for fishing in the open seawaters.

But this year boats are coming with low catch compared to the previous years, creating a tough situation for the boat owners and workforce, because the catch they bring is not enough to recover operating cost of boats, including fuel, ice, food and other things used in routine practice.

Community people link these challenges to overall global warming, climate change, degradation of habitat, increasing marine pollution, and changing temperature.

Pakistan is rich in seafood products, and the industry provides livelihood to more than 300,000 families directly or indirectly. The country’s coastline is spread over 1,050km, from where fishing activities take place.

There are 800 marine species, out of which 120 species are commercially important. These species are brought to the market and processing zones in Karachi from different areas.

Community people on the coast of Sindh, who have been dealing with both commercial and non commercial marine species, say that the number of both commercial and non commercial species is declining. They have not been able to catch large quantities of commercial marine species this year so far. Their operating boats are of different sizes. Bigger boats stay out in the open seas for a few days, sometimes weeks, depending on catch and weather situation. Small boats have short-range target and move to the sea early morning and return back in the evening with little catch for sale.

Elderly fishermen endorse that the operations of smaller boats are more sustainable. These methods have been in practice through generation. These small boats do not create a burden on the marine environment, they say.

They claim that the different approach and policies of the government, which allow bigger boats with larger commercial operations to exploit the sea, have impacted their smaller, more sustainable operations. These larger fishing vessels with huge capacity and net size, are wiping out available fish stocks, they said.

Majeed Motani, an elderly captain, and owner of fishing vessels that operate from Ibrahim Hydri, Karachi, blames the overall weather changes, which have impacted fishing activities as well as marine life.

For instance, he said small-scale fishermen owning little boats were still reluctant to start their activities because of rough sea weather, which has continued till September this year. These small boats usually harvest fishing nets along small waters and stay there for the whole day. But this year, they could not move their vessels out to the sea for routine activities, due to the poor weather conditions.

This phenomenon has also forced mid-sized boats to stay anchored at the harbour and jetties, with an occasional trip here and there. The weather has badly affected the livelihoods of hundreds of community people, who have been associated with fishing for generations.

Talking about the much-talked government's fisheries policy, Motani said, “There are no criteria, who should be allowed to invest in purchasing larger-capacity boats with huge sized nets and operate in the sea. These ‘alien’ people, hailing from different areas of the country, have joined the fishing profession, but they do not know the sensitivity of the sea, as the sea also needs rest.”

These people operate huge vessels 24 hours a day, seven days of week without break. The over fishing has also impacted the fish catch, exploiting available fish stocks. In this situation, only small-scale fishermen face hardship, despite being natural custodians of the sea for generations.

Elders also speak of the depleting water share from Indus River, which flows downstream Kotri, recharging the marine ecosystem. They blame the low downstream water of destroying the natural marine resources as well.

The community elders urge the government to understand that after agriculture, fishing was a major source of livelihood for a large portion of Sindh’s population.

Local activists also remind about the time when low river water flow forced a large number of coastal farmers to join fishing for survival. These farmers were accepted in fishing and now share resources in the coastal areas.

However, the situation is changing now. Licensed factory trawlers operate fishing nets in the provincial jurisdictions, marginalising the local and indigenous fishermen of Sindh. This has impacted alarmingly on resources, leaving small-scale fishermen to stay idle at home without any earnings.

Marine scientists believe that like other species, fish have good sense about the extreme weather and avoid frontline wind pressure. These species move to the bottom to avoid the cold water. Presently there is no exact data about registered boats operating in marine waters. Local jetties are crowded, while others are being established along coastal villages to have additional and separate space for landing products and operating boats. This is happening despite the hue and cry of the community against exploitation of fishing grounds.