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October 20, 2020

Fishermen fear island realty rush to leave them high & dry


October 20, 2020

HYDERABAD: The livelihoods of fishermen, living along the coast of Karachi, Sindh, are likely to run aground because of the loosely regulated development of housing societies on nearby small islands, which are their operating grounds.

Muhammad Hassan Birwani, a fisherman from Ibrahim Hydri, the largest fishing locality of Karachi, recalling the past said he was quite young when he started going to nearby islands, including Dingi and Bhandar near Phitti and Korangi creeks with his elders on a small boat.

Since then he still goes there on his boat for a catch. They have a traditional technique of fishing locally called “lathe jo ban or ban jali”. A specific net is required in this method for towing and trawling. Thus these small boats do not need to travel deep into the open sea for fishing.

In this practice, fishermen form two groups of five or six. One group stays on boat, while the other takes position on the island to drag a wide net towards them. It takes them two-three hours to complete their catch. On their way back to their landing site, they sort out the catch for market.

The fishermen say these specific islands and creeks have potential to catch fish. Whenever they face restrictions, like weather-related fishing bans, they move their boats to these islands to make both ends meet.

There are around thirty fishing boats in this locality that carry 15-16 crews each. These small-scale fishermen follow the moon phases, looking for natural tides to leave their jetties for a catch. There is no exact time for this kind of fishing, as it depends on the tides, which they are always monitoring. As soon as they find them favourable, they hit the ocean, sometimes early in the mornings, and at others in the afternoons or evenings, depending on the situation.

These boats catch all fish species available in the area, including shrimps and crabs. Each worker on the boat can earn Rs1200-1500 daily through this specific method of fishing within two—three hours.

The elderly fishermen have fond memories of past and the changes they have witnessed throughout their 50-60 year long careers. Besides these community people using “ban jali”, some other boats also travel to these islands to stay there for a while for washing fishing nets and other tools. Otherwise, these islands are not inhabited. However, being scenic they attracts picnickers occasionally.

Birwani owns a small boat, which he operates to routine trips. He is aware of the new development at the islands. “We are always challenged on our way to the islands by certain coastal agencies personnel. But we always prefer to compromise and continue to pursue our catch as our families need it to survive,” he said. Commenting on this specific method of fishing, Akhtar Shaikh, a community activist and trader, dealing with seafood business at jetties, said, “Some people have taken this technique to another level as now they use two boats for towing and trawling, where crews drag nets onboard the vessels, instead of doing it from the islands”.

But majority of people were still using traditional methods for towing and trawling, which they find easy for the fishing, Shaikh said. He said there were also some other island villages off Karachi coast, including Khahi, Khudi, and Paityani, populated by a small number of families, living there for generations.

“These places are covered by mangrove forests all around, providing a storm-shield to the people living there.” These island families also employ the same technique to catch fish, which they sell to traders, coming to them daily. The whole family including women and children work to contribute to their survival.

Talking about the twin islands, Dingi and Bhandar, situated near famous Phiti and Korani creeks, he said, “Both the places are considered potential fishing grounds and a small number of community people net their livelihoods from these waters.

There are small patches of mangroves near those islands, but they are uninhabited. There are around 74 islands, which the community people have names. Otherwise, there may be more small and big islands along the entire Sindh coast, spreading over around 350 kilometers. Asif Bhatti from Native Indigenous Fishermen Association (NIFA) from Bhit Island, Keamari, said the development of island cities was a bad news for the future of these fishing communities.

Nifa represents the population living on famous island villages i.e. Baba, Bhit, Salehabad, Manora, and Shamspir near Keamari, Karachi coast, heavily populated by mostly fishermen, living there since long before the development of the metropolitan city.

“Once the island cities are developed the investors may need more land for extension and they may push us all out from our homes to achieve their targets,” Bhatti feared. “It scares us to note that we may be relocated and may have to leave our settlements sooner or later. There is no clear description in the notification to exempt these island villages,” he said.

While interviewing with elderly fishermen, it was learned that they wanted nothing but surety of livelihood protection. They are afraid that their traditional routes towards potential fishing grounds near creeks as well as the open sea may be blocked because of these developments.

Many elderly fishermen have seen the development of Karachi and claim their forefathers had a big contribution in building the city. Ayoub Shan, who works to promote education among coastal community girls, said, “The majority of fishermen leads simple livelihood-centric life. They avoid getting involved in socio-political activities”.

“The poverty and unawareness among the community can be measured through the fact that many people of Ibrahim Hydri have never traveled to the city areas, not even for the purpose of pleasure or entertainment.”

Shan said the uncertainty was always looming over them in the shape of weather ups and downs, rains, and now COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the fishermen a lot of hardship. “They are unaware about their rights or grabbing fishing grounds, on which they depend, despite the fact they are natural custodians of these resources,” he said.

He said climate change had already made the coastal communities vulnerable to disasters and this manmade development might prove to the last nail in the coffin. “Mangroves, the natural shields against disasters like cyclones, may be destroyed in the name of development. If that happens it will not only deprive fishermen of their livelihood, but also make the population along the coast and in the city vulnerable to heat waves and disasters,” he said. Shan urged the government to intervene and check this unrestrained as well as ill-planned urbanisation of islands, off the coast of Karachi, at the hands of money-minded builders and developers.