The ministry of environment and forests ( MoEF) has proposed regulatory functions to panchayats under the proposed ‘Traditional Coastal and Marine Fisherfolk (Protection Rights) Act, 2009’ in a bid to ensure sustainable use of marine resources for biodiversity conservation and to also protect the livelihood of traditional fishermen. If all goes well, panchayats in Goa and elsewhere may soon have to register and regulate the number of traditional fishing boats, declare fishing holidays and exercise control over fishing activities.
“The rights of these fisherfolk, who carry out fishing activity through traditional means, over their habitat and fishing areas were not adequately recognized, resulting in the exploitation of their rights despite their role in the survival and maintenance of the ecosystem,” a draft of the Act, recently put up for public discussion, states. Goa has at least 16 fishing villages on the coast and around 80,000 traditional fishermen in the state.
Pointing out that the conservation regime of the oceans has to be strengthened, the draft reads, “The panchayat shall be the authority to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community rights or both to the local traditional fisherfolk.”
The local self-governing bodies will have to oversee the process of setting up dwelling units for the registered traditional fishermen, monitor pollution, and perform some other tasks.
But traditional fishermen and their leaders are skeptical about their role and the feasibility of such a proposal. “The panchayats are largely responsible for violations in coastal areas,” Matanhy Saldanha, chairman of the National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), said.
Urging the ministry not to adopt the ‘Protection of Tribals and Other Inhabitants of Forest Areas Bill’ to fish-workers, Saldanha said the ownership of coastal land is largely private as compared to government ownership of forest land.
“Even the needs and aspirations of fishermen and other inhabitants are different from those of forest dwellers,” he said.
Calling for a proper debate before the draft is finalized, Rambhau Patil, NFF general secretary, said, “The proposed Act should not ghettoize traditional fishermen by restricting them and their activities to certain beach areas. The entire beach is their domain for landing their fishing canoes without disturbing others.”
The NFF stated that the Bill should also recognize the rights of other communities living along the coastline.
Raising doubts about the panchayats’ political will to regulate fishing activities, the NFF chairman said, “If the government implements the existing Marine Fishing Regulations Act, 1981, to prevent mechanized boats from fishing within a 5-km zone, and implements the ban on fishing during the monsoon period, it would serve the purpose, instead of new laws.”
The Act proposes to set up infrastructure for fishing activities, including fish curing halls and health, education and other facilities.
It is also proposed to strengthen fisheries and other departments to provide post-harvest technologies to the traditional fishermen.