By Mariyam Suleman
The Balochistan government’s failure to take steps against illegal fishing vessels in Balochistan coast, prevent the growth of fisheries industry in Balochistan, causing severe damage to marine life and rise economic crisis for local fishermen.
The ongoing disputes raised in the Balochistan coast beginning in early 2000, are often portrayed as being centered to fishermen community only. However, the current statistics and facts show, how the absence of government action has declined the fish stocks and raised economic crisis for seven in every ten people living in Balochistan coast.
Illegal Fishing Vessels of Sindh: A Major Threat
Since 2014, Balochistan is experiencing decrease in its annual catch, starting with a decrease of 7%, it continues with more according to Balochistan Fisheries Department Data. On the other hand, although Balochistan accounts for two-thirds of Pakistan’s coastline, it shockingly contributes one-third to the country’s marine fish production, what concerns even more is, the continuous decline.
“In the past, we would come back with lots of fish after spending an entire day or night at sea but now, we hardly come back with enough to feed our families,” explained Asif Baloch, a local fisherman.
With many other issues, according to local fishermen, illegal fishing vessels sailing all the way from Sindh are a major cause for this decline.
Forty-year old Azghar Baloch, another local fisherman is concerned over losing the battle to earning a living and supporting his family, “With the continuous decease in fish stocks, we may have to find other ways of earning in coming years. We have done enough of protesting in the last 16-17 years but now it seems clear that government and fisheries department have no interest in our concerns whether our livelihood or our lives are under threat.”
Despite the EPA (Environmental Protection Act) allowing fishing only within the 12 nautical miles of coast, Balochistan coast is still home to three out of every ten fishing crafts of Pakistan’s coastline according to Balochistan Fisheries Data. But what this data also shows is that the large fishing vessels sailing within the 12 nautical miles in Balochistan coast and violating the jurisdictional law, belong to Sindh.
According to the fishermen, these large vessels do not only illegally sweep away the sea-floor taking everything along with fish and sea corals but they also tear apart and take away the fishing nets of the local fishermen. “While in sea, when local fishermen protest seeing the vessels, those mafias in response pour hot water and sometimes physically torture our fellow fishermen,” Azghar Baloch further explained.
Ghost Employees in Fisheries Department and Absence of Government Steps
In January 2018, Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Qudos Bezenjo, visited Gwadar and talked to the local fishermen about their concerns. “The Chief Minister Balochistan heard our issues, and assured us to take a tougher line on banning illegal fishing, but we still see the illegal vessels sailing in our coast,” complained the local fishermen.
Illegal fishing is hard to eliminate when government does not seem interested to solve the issue and the Balochistan Fisheries Department fails to remain totally functional.
“Eight out of every ten employees of Balochistan Fisheries Department do not give duty but receive salaries without having to work the entire month,” revealed one of the senior officers of Balochistan Fisheries Department.
In response to fishermen’s complains about ghost employees of Balochistan Fisheries Department, the Chief Minister Balochistan ordered dismissal of Director, Deputy Director and patrolling staff of Fisheries Department in Gwadar.
However, according to fishermen, this does not solve the entire issue since absence of employees is just one part of this complex issue. “They (the ghost employees) are backed by the political parties, whether the trawler-mafia plunder our marine stocks or they dump us into the sea, with limited number of fisheries department employees giving duty, what happens at sea cannot be controlled,” complained Asif.
“While only few of the employees are needed and actually work at department, each station of fisheries department is still crowded with ghost employees,” said one of the senior officers and further added, “For instance, in Gwadar we only need 4-5 patrolling inspectors but government has deliberately hired 47 employees. Similarly, in Turbat an in-land station of fisheries department, only 2-3 patrolling inspectors give duty but they have hired 25.”
The situation may had differed if all the employees had given duty specially at the coast, preventing illegal fishing and giving protection to local fishermen.
On the other hand, EPA (Environmental Protection Act), also gives authorities to assistant director of fisheries department to detain anyone involved in illegal activities within 12 nautical miles of shore but according to the officers of Fisheries Department political interference snatches all authorities of senior officers.
Increase in Fisheries Department Spending Makes No Difference.
The government of Balochistan spends 1 in every 50 rupees from the economic services for fisheries department. Since 2013, with every new budget presented for the province, spending for fisheries department showed significant increase.
“The increase in budget makes no difference for the fishermen. Since 2004, Meed Itehad (a local fishermen group working for fishermen’s rights) had actively raised the issues of fishermen but apart from more spending for mega-projects in Gwadar, government did not pay slightest attention toward management for the rights of local fishermen but supported the illegal trawler mafia in plundering the marine stocks,” said Khudad Waju, a representative of Meed Itehad.
In contrast, the local people indirectly connected to fishery industry, claim that the government only intervenes to solve the issue when fishermen sit on strike, and even then, the government does not offer any sustainable solution.
“There was a time, when Balochistan’s fish catches rose but as fishing fleets of Sindh discovered new fish stocks to exploit in Balochistan, and our government failed to end this cycle of exploitation, keeping the budget to feed the ghost employees of fisheries department, the issue worsened,” exaplined Khudad Waju.
Implementation of Policies to End Exploitation of Marine Stocks & Fishermen’s Rights.
Balochistan coast has always been home to fishermen communities, according to the local fishermen from the last 30-40 years the sea had got much busier. “After the population ballooned in the last one decade, many people from the in-land villages of Balochistan that had never seen the sea also flooded in, forming the bulk of the workforce,” said Asif. Despite a larger population at the coast being direct and indirect beneficiary of the fisheries, there are hardly any new laws to ensure safe fishing.
“Act and policies for fisheries were first made in 1970s, since then there has only been few amendments but not a single new policy has been introduced to address today’s issues,” suggested a senior officer in Fisheries Department.
Formal legislation for reservation of provincial territorial water was first introduced in 1972 for the protection of marine stocks and fishermen’s rights, however, these policies could not help Balochistan coast in the last twenty years since the problems have changed.
“Policies alone aren’t enough, but without new policies to meet today’s needs and their proper implementation, there would be nothing left. There has to be new policies to encourage a total ban on illegal vessels and ghost employees of fisheries department,” said Khudadad Waju.