THE state fisheries department has decided to seek assistance of the coastal police to crack down on illegal fishing in the waters of the River Zuari.The action was long overdue and has perhaps come after public criticism and media reports of neglect of duty by the department. The department pleaded until recently that its only patrolling boat was out of order and hence it could not act. What prevented the department to seek the help of other departments to act against illegal fishing? Other departments authorised to act against illegal fishing apparently avoided their duties for long on flimsy grounds. Fisheries director Vinesh Arlenkar has now asked the coastal police to apprehend anyone involved in illegal fishing and report it to his department for further action. The Bharat Mukti Morcha (BMM) which espouses the cause of traditional fishermen (ramponkars) has been alleging that illegal fishing was rampant and that politicians were patronising it. There appears to be truth in the allegations of political backing to illegal fishing which perhaps was the reason the government agencies failed to act. The ramponkars knocked the doors of all the concerned in attempts to save their livelihood, but action promised was not delivered.
The fisheries department recently assured it had intensified patrolling and would take action to curb illegal fishing. However, the promised action could not be taken; the department claimed that owing to bad weather and high wind speed their patrolling vessel could not reach the spot near the Siridao bay. The ramponkars alleged around 20 trawlers were carrying out illegal fishing. The trawlers should have been stopped and seized. The owners of the trawlers indulging in illegal fishing are perhaps emboldened by the fact that even if they are caught they can get away with a fine of mere Rs 100 under the existing rules. The rules have not been changed for decades. Proposals for revision of the Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1980 and Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulations, 1981 have been pending for almost one and half years; there are no signs of them being done anytime soon. According to the existing rules, only a gazetted officer from the coastal police or directorate of fishing can stop and inspect a fishing vessel and impose fines for violations. It is seldom that gazetted officers are involved in patrolling and prevention of illegal fishing.
The fisheries department has put up a proposal to the law department for an amendment of fishing regulation Act in order to enhance the penalty imposed on defaulters who are caught carrying out illegal fishing. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar must intervene so the law is amended to provide for stiffer penalties and authorise non-gazetted officials to conduct raids. The general law against illegal fishing provides for imposition of a fine of Rs 25,000, but in Goa it is fixed at Rs 100. The government should immediately change the law by issuing an ordinance if need be to enhance the amount to serve as deterrent against violators. Unless the law and rules are changed and made deterrent illegal fishing will thrive in the state. Without severe penalties and deterrent course of action enforcement agencies have been rendered handicapped and the violators have become more and more brazen. To save the traditional fishermen from the onslaught of mechanised boat owners and and to save their livelihood, action must be taken up as a priority by the state government. The fish resources should not be allowed to be overexploited by unscrupulous trawler owners.
Illegal fishing causes grave environmental damage, disturbing the already vulnerable marine ecosystems and hence regeneration of marine resources, thus depriving the traditional fishermen of adequate catches. Political patronage to elements and groups engaged in illegal exploitation of natural resources must be neutralised by the intervention of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, as illegal fishing is not a minor crime; it is a crime against all traditional fishermen and Goans who have stuck to traditional fish diets. The government could put technology to use in curbing illegal fishing and preservation of marine ecology. The government should insist on use of GPS monitoring system on the motorised vessels, which will help the fisheries department, the coastal police and other agencies to track their positions and act immediately to curb violations. Every effort should be made to completely stop illegal fishing. The fisheries department in particular and the state government in general would be doing a great disservice to ramponkars, Goans at large and their future generations if they turn a blind eye to rampant illegal fishing.