KARACHI: Local fishermen have expressed concerns on issuance of Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) certificates to 12 deep sea fishing trawlers, which await Sindh Fisheries Department permission to operate in provincial territorial waters of up to 12 nautical miles from the coast.
One official source said the Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Department received the letter to grant permission in January, but has not followed through so far. “The inspection is under way,” he added.
These trawlers were imported from China under an agreement and letter of intent (LOI) issued by the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society (FCS) for operating 20 fishing vessels in Pakistan.
“We have received the Kole Certificates ‘Provisional Registration under Pakistan Flag’ from the MMD, for our 12 Steel Hull Fishing Boats,” said ABC Marine Services (Pvt) Limited in a letter to Sindh minister for livestock and fisheries.
Small-scale fishermen aware of the technical details have raised severe reservations about calling these trawlers “boats”. They oppose operating these large trawlers due to their capability of overexploitation. Since the fishing reserves are low within the waters of Sindh, introduction of large commercial trawlers further threatens those dependent on subsistence fishing. The letter sent to the Sindh minister for livestock and fisheries declared the trawlers boats, which had the same capacity as the local wooden boats.
“These 12 fishing boats have fish hold capacity of 70 tons each, similar to our local made wooden boats,” the letter said. The letter further declared the trawlers employed a sustainable fishing method.
However, locals contest the claims. They also held a rally from Arts Council to Karachi Press Club soon after these trawlers were spotted near the coast of Karachi.
Sindh Fisheries Department’s permission was mandatory to make these trawlers operational in the territorial waters of the province.
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Chairperson Muhammad Ali Shah, in a letter to Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said around a dozen trawlers were anchored around the Karachi Port. “Trawlers’ arrival in our area is banned and it's illegal.”
It further added that the government planned to issue licenses to operate these trawlers, as these deep-sea trawlers could not come without the permission of the federal government.
Food and Agricultural Organisation’s latest fish stock assessment conducted with the support of the federal government had already painted a very dismal picture of the country’s marine fish stock. According to the assessment report, more than 72 percent of the fish stock in coastal areas of Pakistan has declined. “Then, why there is a deep-sea fishing policy in the making?” asked the letter. “If the provincial assemblies have not approved the policy then it is also a violation of the constitution.” Expressing distress at the situation, the letter further added, “Our grave objection to this action is two-fold: it threatens the livelihoods of small fishers by depriving them of catch today, and in future by ecologically destructive practices of these vessels.”
It also pointed to the destructive practice of storing premium fish and discarding other varieties adopted by large deep sea vessels, which caused food waste and degradation.