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Banned Pelagic Trawling Still Taking Place in Kerala

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INDIA - Banned pelagic fishing nets have been making a silent comeback to coastal fishing in Kerala, a move which many feel would pose a serious threat to the marine ecosystem of the state.

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A tense situation was witnessed at Munambam fishing harbour recently when a section of BMS union-backed loading workers resisted the sale of fish caught through these nets. Last week, tonnes of ribbon fish caught through pelagic nets were abandoned on the decks of the harbour and destroyed later at Munambam, reports the BusinessStandard.

Police and officials from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) reached the spot and cautioned fishing boat workers against the use of such unlawful methods.

Traditional fishermen have strongly oppose this and consider it a threat to the prospects of their marine catch.

Pelagic trawling through mechanised boats is active in Kochi, Alappuzha, and Kollam, while the practice is not prevalent in the northern Malabar region. Fishermen under this venture into the seas during the night hours to ensure quick catch.

According to sources close to this business, around 20 per cent of the boats opt for pelagic type of fishing. In this method, two boats are used to catch fish commonly known as pair trawling. The mouth of the cone-shaped net is put wide open and all living objects in a vast area get caged in the net and get killed.

Over 12,000 fishing boats operate in Kerala and most of them do not have valid licences from the fisheries department.

During 2013, pelagic nets were widely employed towards the end of the fishing season, while this time it's being used even before the commencement of the fishing season. The traditional fishermen community speaking to Business Standard termed the development a ‘suicidal attempt’ as it destroys all living organisms, including the infants, besides damaging the marine ecosystem. Normally, fishing boat workers abandon juvenile fish as it has no commercial value.

Trawling with pelagic net was banned in the country way back in 1980s as it causes total damage to fish species and other marine organisms. The law insists fishing boats should use trawl nets in deep sea —100 km from the coast.

According to Jossey, a Munambam-based boat owner, the practice might cause damage to the survival of juvenile fish. He said 20-30 per cent of grown up fish should be alive in the sea for the existence of different types of fish.

He alleged even traditional fishermen widely employ fishing nets like Ringsean and Persean, which had been banned in shallow waters.

During last season, the marine enforcement wing of the fisheries department seized three pelagic nets from a net-making unit in Munambam area. The nets meant for bull trawling were brought from Mangalore in Karnataka.

According to the assistant director of the fisheries department, pelagic nets, which are four times bigger than the normal net, were being used for trawling by attaching to the wenches of two boats. This type of fishing is done outside the territorial waters, mostly in areas with a depth of 120 metre and above and in a distance of 100-250 km from the coast. This is against the Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1980, he said.

Charles George, convenor of Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi, appealed to the fishermen and boat workers to refrain from illegal practices and adhere to the code of fishing that will make fishing sustainable. Anchovies, sardines and mackerels, the catch of the traditional fishermen, is being targeted by the large trawlers too. They do this by employing 500-525 hp (horse power) mechanised boats to make a quick catch.

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