The threat of Fisheries Minister Vinod Palyekar to impose tax on vehicles transporting fish for sale outside the state sounds weird. The minister’s idea is to bring down fish prices in Goa by restricting ‘export’ of ‘fish caught within the territorial waters of the state’ to other states. There is no such levy charged by any state on export of fish to another state. Goa never had any provision for any such tax. The Parrikar government never announced they proposed to make a provision for imposition of a fish export tax. Palyekar has not followed up his announcement with a proposal to the cabinet for making a law for the purpose. Senior officers feel the minister’s idea was unadvisable and impractical.
Goa’s total fish catch has been swinging up and down. The catch was to the tune of 1.14 lakh tonnes between July 2014 and June 2015 but dropped to a little over 96,000 tonnes between July 2015 and June 2016. According to experts at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), the factors that have been affecting fish catch were climate change, increase in sea surface temperature and mean sea level. The fish catch till March 31 this year was 31,867 tonnes. More than a third of the fish catch in Goa is exported to China, USA, UAE and European countries. Though the fish catch has not been static or shown much increase, the yield is good enough to not only meet the local market requirements but also demand for exports. The minister should brainstorm with officers and fishing entrepreneurs to work out a strategy for increasing the yield for increasing the local supply as well as exports, rather than threatening to curb export. The fisheries department has to be complimented for taking steps to ban fishing with LED lights. The department proposes to amend the Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1980 and the Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulations, 1981 to check rampant illegal fishing. The fall in fish catch has been partly attributed to overfishing. The state enforces 61 days ban on fishing between June 1 and July 31 every year. According to the officials, not all the fish caught in the state is accounted for and there is possibility of figures being fudged.
Much like people in other trades, Goan fishermen would like to sell their produce to anyone who was paying better. Placing curbs on export would prove to be a disincentive to them. At the same time, it remains true that fish prices have been steadily rising in Goa. Over the years even fish varieties like kingfish and pomfret have become a luxury to Goans. Going by the rule of supply and demand, there definitely is a supply deficit pushing the prices. What the government needs to do is to put checks in place to make fish entrepreneurs comply with the rules. Major penalties have to be imposed on repeat offenders as plunder of Goa’s fish resources cannot be allowed entirely for the gains of a few. Though there has been some action of late it is not enough to stop the illegalities. Only a handful of people have been caught for violating norms. With political patronage most of those found on the wrong side of law get away easily. Palyekar had recently come up with the idea of transferring a part of the fuel subsidy given to trawler owners to consumers to make fish available at cheaper rates. That is a good idea and he should pursue it. The government has paid an amount of Rs 100 crore in the last five years as subsidy.
With the country having moved to a single tax regime with the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) it has become even more anomalous for a state to think of making a law to levy tax on fish export to another state. The system of entry tax that existed prior to implementation of GST has been withdrawn and the check-posts, where the fee was collected, have been shut down. In the absence of any basis it would not be possible to impose tax on vehicles carrying fish for sale outside the state. It would be better if the minister brought up a rule that a certain percentage of fish catch is sold mandatorily in the state’s fish markets to local consumers. Since fishermen avail subsidies in one form or the other at the cost of tax payers (i.e. fish consumers), they should be compelled to sell a certain percentage of their fish haul in the