Fishing vessels along Gwadar bay (Courtesy: Wikimedia)
Fishing vessels along Gwadar bay (Courtesy: Wikimedia)

85% of Gwadar’s population relies on the fisheries industry for their livelihood. This has been so for thousands of years. In 325 B.C., when Alexander’s Greek army came to this region, they termed the local populace ‘fish-eaters’ which is an affirmation that then, as now, the population of Gwadar relied on fishing.

Apart from fisheries, today nearly 5% of the population earns its bread from boats and launches while a small number makes money by transporting the fisheries to other areas. A yet smaller number of locals are employed in government jobs, most of them teachers at government-run schools and employees in the fisheries department.

Gwadar remained under the rule of Oman for many centuries and although the area has come under Pakistan since 1958, it still has close links with the Arabian kingdom. Today, a significant number of people from Gwadar live in the Arab states and are nationals, both of Pakistan and the states they live in. Most of them are affluent, and send a sizable amount of remittances back home.

A look at the peripheries of Gwadar reveals that a tiny sliver, nearly 2%, of the population, is associated with agriculture. This number makes sense given that Gwadar sees very few rains and small portions of land is tractable.

Gwadar has been called as a port city for some years now. Pakistan aims to develop the Gwadar coast so that it becomes the center of China-bound sea trade. Although not many developments have taken place in the city, the prospect of future development has attracted significant number of people to the city. Back in 2005, the population of Gwadar was nearly 50,000. Today, it stands at 250,000 and is expected to rise further in the coming days.

In all this, the fisherman in Gwadar are a people on the losing end. Before Gwadar port came into being, they had the freedom to catch rare prawns, lobsters and fishes near the hill. Since the construction on the port, they are no longer permitted to hunt in the area due to security reservations.

When General Pervez Musharraf visited Gwadar back in 2004, he promised that with the creation of the port, the local fishermen will become affluent and they will have new opportunities. He also assured that a Marine college will be made for the children of the fishermen and they will then be provided employment. More than a decade since, these promises still remain to be fulfilled. The local fisherman say that rather than providing us with new opportunities, we have been deprived of the opportunities we already had. They say that the local fisherman have been shifted from Gwadar East Bay to Gwadar West Bay. At the port, there are no opportunities for them either.

The menace of illegal trawlering:

At the same time, the local fishermen have to face the menace of illegal trawlering. Trawlers are larger fishing vessels which, as per the rules laid down by the Fisheries Department, must do their hunting at a distance of 12 nautical miles from the coast. However, in blatant violation of these rules, trawlers in Gwadar have long been operating at 2 to 3 kilometers from the coast. This is causing irreparable damage to the sea-bed and at the same time, making the reproduction of fisheries impossible given its scale.

These trawlers, involved in illegal fishing all along the Gwadar coast and in other areas of the Makran coast, are owned by industrialists, bureaucrats, the affluent families in Sindh and other big-wigs from the establishment, according to the local population. They bully the local fishermen when confronted for their illegal actions and are often armed with weapons. Because of their powerful patrons, the provincial government seems unable to do anything about it.

The local fisherman have times and again demanded that action be taken against them but so far, absolutely nothing has been done to curb their activities. While they battle such adversaries, the list of their woes is far from over. The government is currently constructing new landing sites in Pushkan and Surbandan for the fisherman. They will soon be barred from the Gwadar fish harbor as well as the auction hall. Naturally, they are not happy with this decision.

According to an estimate, there are some 3,000 to 4,000 fishing vessels operating in Gwadar East and West bay. On average, every vessel employs 5 to 10 people. In other words, fishing is the lifeline of Gwadar’s economy. And unless the local fishermen are offered new opportunities, their plight will directly affect the economy of Gwadar.

Originally published on PakVoices Gwadar website in Urdu.