Remove adverse provisions in Marine Fisheries Bill: NFF

Raising apprehension over a few of the provisions in the Marine Fisheries Regulation and Management Bill, the National Fish Workers’ Forum (NFF) said that the Bill contained certain provisions that adversely affected the traditional fishermen.

The NFF leaders raised the apprehension during a meeting with Central Fisheries Joint Secretary Rajni Rekhri Sibal in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The joint Secretary was in the state for discussions on the Bill with the State government and also other stake holders.

Talking to,  Forum General Secretary T Peter said that the NFF had an exclusive meeting with Rajni Rekhri Sibal and also presented their suggestions and comments on the Bill to her.  

One of the main issues raised was with respect to the control of fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Noting that the states now had control over fishing activities up to 12 nautical miles and that the traditional boats in many states went beyond this nautical mile, Peter said that the proposal of getting licence beyond this area was not practical.

In the representation, the NFF said that the license that is now issued by the State governments is by virtue of power by the Marine Fishing Regulation Act inducted by the respective state legislatures. They also raised concern over provision 3 (I), which states that fishing anywhere in the maritime zones of India (including territorial waters) required a license “issued by the Centre or any authority notified under the Act”. The Federation asked to drop the term “maritime zones” and clearly say that fishing in the EEZ and high seas required a license from the Centre or any authority notified under the Act.

Another issue raised in the draft Bill was with respect to the need of registration of fishing boats under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958. They called for a detailed review of the regulations under the Merchant Shipping Act and also to modify the Act to suit the fishers.

V Vivekanandan and Jackson Pollayil were among others apart from Peter who met the Joint secretary.

In the representation, the NFF said that proposed Bill lacked provisions for the protection of fishermen from the encroachment of other sectors of economy. They cautioned that if this trend continued, then it would be dangerous and called for a ’Fisher’s Rights Bill’ on the lines of Forest Rights Act that protects the Tribals.

With respect to registration and licensing, the Federation said that the respective governments should be given the control over the manufacture of Boats, which would help in the control of fleet expansion. They also called for “pre-registration” for the manufacture of fishing vessels. Moreover, they also said that license should be linked to management plans.

On the security aspect with respect to the Merchant Shipping Act, the NFF doubted if the said Act would have the flexibility to set the norms in tune with the different categories of fishing vessels.

In the provision — “Indian fishing vessel” – the draft bill gives power to the Centre to declare any kind of vessel not specified in the definition as an Indian fishing vessel. The Federation doubted if this clause itself was needed.

In the representation, the NFF also raised apprehension over the definition of “fisheries”. In this respect, they underlined certain issues that had to be reworked in the draft Bill. With respect to Post Harvest in the provision related to ‘fisheries’, they said that it gave the possibility of regulating the trade of fish that has been caught illegally using banned/prohibited fishing gear and juvenile fish. However, they pointed out that these were not included in the operational clause, including in the Fisheries Management Plans. In pro-harvesting, the NFF said that regulation was needed in net making and manufacture for effective control over fishing. They noted that there should be regulations for prohibiting the manufacture of illegal gears and nets. The term “conservation and management of marine living resources” in the Bill also raised some confusion, they said and doubted if these were part of regulation or fining solutions.

Raising concern over “code of conduct for responsible fisheries”, the NFF said that it created confusion.  They also said that it was not clear what the “code of conduct for responsible fisheries” meant. Though this term has been found among the list of definitions, the Federation said that it was not found in any of the operative sections of the Bill.

With respect to the term “eco-system approach to fisheries management” in the proposed Bill, the Federation has raised concern that the Bill does not refer to fisher participation in fisheries management.

On research, survey and other related studies, the Federation was doubtful if the provisions in the said Bill covered all maritime zones.

Stating that the terms “fishing shall be prohibited in marine protected areas…” was draconian, the Federation pointed out that marine protected areas had no legal definition in the country.  They also noted that the Wildlife Protection Act (WILPA) and Forest Conservation Act (FCA) were sometimes being unjust to fishermen. They represented that the fishermen in Orissa were not allowed to fish for a few weeks in a year for protecting Olive Ridley Turtle. Moreover, they also said that some areas in Orissa have been completely banned from fishing. They also said that many women sea weed collectors in Ramanad in Tamil Nadu have been restricted from this in the name of protecting coral reefs. Moreover, about 30,000 fishermen in Jambudweep in west Bengal have been thrown out from their dwelling in the name of mangrove protection where as hundreds of acres of mangroves are being destroyed in the name of development, which was quite a paradox, the NFF said in the representation. They said that the new Ministry of Fisheries should look into all these aspects and ensure that only fair restrictions that do not take away the livelihood of fishermen are imposed.

The Federation welcomed the inclusion of officers of the State governments under the category “authorized officer”, and organisations of the State government under the “authorized entity” group.

Also critical of the Fisheries Management Plans inducted in the proposed Bill, the NFF claimed that this aspect was seen to be week in the Bill. They pointed out that the new provisions had diluted the Fisheries Management Plans.

They also welcomed the “National Marine Fisheries Authority” that has been included in the proposed Bill, stating that the Federation had been asking for this for a long time. They wanted clarity on the punishment of offenses.

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