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A fishy business

A fishy business

A fishy business

fishy business

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ISLAMABAD: When the people of the port city of Gwadar started a protest movement in October this year, one of their key demands was to put a ban on the entry of fishing trawlers from Sindh in the territorial waters of Balochistan and on Dec 16, the provincial government had to accept this demand.

According to an 11-point written agreement, the government would ensure monitoring and checking of trawlers through joint patrolling with help of administration and fishermen.

A trawl is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom to gather fish or other marine life while bottom trawling is a fishing practice that herds and captures the target species, like ground fish or crabs, by towing the net along the ocean floor.

The mesh of such nets is designed to confine fish inside the net, trapping them in the codend – rearmost part of the trawl – as the trawl is hauled to the surface.

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Discussing the issue with Bol News, some experts said the ecosystem in seawaters alongside the coastal belt of Sindh has already been badly disturbed due to bottom trawling via illegal nets.

They said the environmental impact of bottom trawling on the coastal belt of Sindh is quite visible now in terms of the quantity of fish caught by the local fishermen.

They said bottom sea trawling has been going on for the last three decades. However, now scarcity of the fish catch has become a very serious issue for the fishermen of Sindh.

According to the experts, as fishes are becoming scarce in their waters, the fishermen of Sindh especially that of Karachi do deep sea trawling in Gwadar and in other areas of Balochistan. There are 2,000 to 2,500 fishing boats in Karachi, many of which now head towards the seas of Balochistan.

WWF technical adviser and Marine Fisheries Department former director general Dr Moazzam Khan said illegal deep trawling is an old and much debated practice which has been a major point of concern for the fishermen of Balochistan.

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He said the fishermen of Sindh do bottom trawling through a net which is locally known as Bulla Gujja to catch prawns and other sea resources but fisherfolk of Balochistan do not use this net in their seawater.

“Use of Gujja net is banned in Pakistani waters. Such nets not only catch small fish, shellfish and mud crawlers but they are also very dangerous for their life cycles. Marine resources in Pakistan have been on the decline as fishermen persistently use banned nets for catches in the country’s seawater.”

Dr Moazzam said this trawling which is illegal by all means is generally done 40 meters deep.

“When they don’t find the catch in the coastal belt of Sindh, they move towards the seas of Balochistan as these sea creatures are in abundance there as compared to their own sea.”

However, he said, the fishermen of Lasbela and Gwadar do not want this activity to be performed as they know that it would disturb the fish habitats.

“The fishermen of Balochistan continue to be conventionalist as it has been their business for the past many centuries. The fishermen of Karachi are also conventionalist but they have got their own compulsions which force them to adopt ways and means which are not considered legal,” he said.

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He said this type of fishing is disastrous for the ecosystem but it continues to happen due to improper check and balance by the authorities concerned. He said the fishermen involved in this activity pay Rs50,000 or more to get a chit for doing fishing in the seawaters of Balochistan.

“This chit is illegal in itself. Generally permits are issued by the respective fisheries departments of Sindh and Balochistan for catching fish against payment of negligible amounts ranging between Rs400 to Rs500 per annum.

“However, when you get the chit of the Fisheries Department of Balochistan then no one asks you a question. The authorities take action only against the trawlers which don’t carry this chit,” he said.

He said a lot of money is involved in this illegal business so the stakes of authorities concerned are also very high and that’s the reason it could not be stopped yet. According to Dr Khan, as the fishermen of Balochistan don’t do deep trawling, their fish catch is also limited.

“This practice can be controlled only when all the authorities show commitment and implement the laws in true spirit. However, despite the agreement, the issue is not likely to be resolved.”

Naufil Shahrukh, an expert on issues of Balochistan coastal belt, told Bol News that fishermen in Gwadar and other coastal belts of Balochistan regard the fishing trawlers from Sindh as a threat.

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“According to the census of 2017, the total population of Gwadar is 263,514 while the population of Lasbela is 574,292. Most of the population of these areas earn their livelihood through sea resources.” He said a recent study conducted by him showed that around 70% population of Gwadar consists of fisherfolk who have been living on the marine resources for centuries.

Shahrukh said the fishing trawlers of Sindh catch fish in Balochistan without license and they also use illegal wire nets within 12 nautical miles from the shore which pose a serious threat to the livelihood of the locals.

“There is a need to devise a strict policy against the illegal fishing trawlers to provide relief to the fisherfolk of the coastal belt of Balochistan,” he said.

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