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Stealers Of Goa’s Fish

Agencies to stop illegal fishing must have teeth that can bite

Goan fishermen had to wage a battle on their own off the Baga beach on Wednesday to stop illegal bull trawling by fishermen from Karnataka to protect marine resources within Goa’s waters and their livelihood. Fifteen local fishermen, arming themselves to defend themselves from any attack from the intruding fishermen, were able to apprehend a speedboat and its crew involved in illegal fishing in the territorial waters of the state. Interrogation of the apprehended fishermen revealed that over 40 high-speed fishing boats from Malpe in Karnataka were carrying out bull trawling in the Goan waters close to the Baga beach in a blatantly illegal activity. The detained fishermen admitted to carrying out illegal fishing in Goan waters for days together and carrying away scores of tonnes of fish. The sordid episode indicates that the state authorities have utterly failed in preventing illegal bull trawling. It was left to the local fishermen to stop illegalities and save the marine resources that help them earn their living.

Following the Baga episode, the state government has promised stern action against those seeking to steal marine resources from the Goa’s territorial waters. However, the government’s warning might not carry much weight as such promises were made in the past but the authorities forgot about them afterwards. This is not the first time that fishermen from other states have ventured into Goa’s territorial waters and this certainly would not be the last time until the state government sincerely strengthens its legal position and enforcement authority to deal with illegal fishing. That local fishermen had to act on their own to prevent illegal fishing is an indication that the state’s law enforcement departments, be it fisheries department or the coastal police, have failed to be effective.

The state government has been very unfair to the fishing community as it has not framed rules to deal with illegal fishing. The central government had banned bull trawling and fishing using LED lights in 2017 but Goa is still to come up with relevant rules. In the absence of rules, the fisheries department or the coastal police cannot but be helpless in dealing with illegal fishing. What prevented the state authorities from coming out with rules over the last two years? There cannot but be one conclusion: the government is not serious about protecting the marine resources in the state’s territorial waters and about protecting the interests of the fishermen of the state. The fishermen from Karnataka admitted to fishing in the waters of Ratnagiri, Mumbai and Goa for ten days or more at a stretch, which shows that illegal fishing is an organized activity. However, the rules at present in Goa allow enforcement agencies to impose a fine of Rs 100 on the persons caught for illegal fishing. A boat that takes away fish worth thousands of rupees will not mind paying Rs 100 as fine even when it is caught.  The state government has to increase the risks. Ports Minister Michael Lobo has called for imposition of hefty fines on those caught for illegal fishing. How can fines be imposed when there are no rules?

There are possibilities of violent fights taking place between fishermen from other states doing illegal fishing in Goa’s waters and local fishermen. The fishermen from Karnataka were found to be armed. It is the tendency of men indulging in illegal activity to be armed. They may be armed with traditional weapons such as swords, daggers and sticks or they may even be armed with firearms. When we talk of stopping illegal fishing we are not just talking of increasing fines but also of equipping fisheries department and coastal police boats with arms and communications apparatuses. Goa’s fishermen have already been suffering from the vagaries of weather year after year. They have been suffering owing to depletion of marine resources. On the top of that if organized groups of fishermen from neighbouring states go on carrying away fish from Goa’s waters, local fishermen will be left nowhere as their catch and income will fall further. The fishermen from other states engaged in organized illegal fishing would not be deterred unless the enforcement agencies of the Goa government bare their teeth and prove they
can bite.

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