5. Fisheries Management Systems

Reports from Work Package 5: Please click on report number to view


The specific aim or output of the work package on fisheries management is to “define a new fisheries management system” for TN & PC. This arose from the scoping study that clearly identified weaknesses in fisheries management as a key problem that had been aggravated by the liberal distribution of fishing boats and nets by Government and NGOs after the tsunami.

The significance of this work package is underscored by the fact that effective fisheries management is an essential tool for achieving the long term development goal of the project: sustainable management of the fisheries in India and that this makes a positive net contribution to development and pro-poor growth.


· A long term analysis of TN fisheries indicates that there has been a continuous growth in fish landings with a five-fold increase over a 50 year period along with a three-fold increase in active fishermen.

· This is the result of continuous expansion of the fishing operations to deeper and distant waters and the continuous discovery of new grounds and resources. The entire shelf area off the TN coast is now covered by the TN fishing fleet, both mechanized and motorised. It is unlikely that there is any scope for additional catches in the shelf area

· In addition to fully exploiting its shelf area, sections of the TN fleet depend heavily on fishing in neighbouring waters. Around 20% of the catch comes from Andhra and Sri Lanka

· TN is already a pioneer in deep sea fishing when it is strictly defined as fishing beyond the shelf. The Thoothoor fishermen with a fleet of 500 liners cum gillnetters have a monopoly all over the west coast of India but most landings (guesstimate of 20,000-30,000 tonnes) are in Cochin. Chennai gillnetters and a tiny fleet of long liners in Pondicherry have already started fishing beyond the shelf on the east coast

· Thus TN fisheries has developed well beyond the confines of its own geographical area and is dependent on fishing in the coastal waters of neighbouring states as well as fishing in the deep beyond state jurisdictions. This explains the paradox of TN fish landings touching a new peak of 5.33 lakh tones in 2009 when the CMFRI resource estimates of TN are only in the range of 4.0-4.25 lakh tonnes.

· A long term analysis of fish landings of TN show that landings grew continuously till 1997, had a sharp fall in the period 1998-2004 and then a sharp increase during the period 2005-09 hitting the new peak of 5.33 lakh tonnes. However this increase is not as welcome as it sounds. There are major structural changes in TN fisheries with the emergence of the low value oil sardine as the No.1 species contributing over 20% of the catches.

· Oil sardine catches in the coastal waters and new catches from deeper waters mask the decline of many coastal fish resources and this has led to the near-total elimination of the non-motorised fishing with the artisanal fishermen compelled to motorise in order to go deeper for fish

· There is every reason to believe that fish catch levels are being maintained only by continuous increases in investment and operating costs leading to over capitalization of the fishery

· Lack of entry barriers and capacity controls has meant that intense competition between sub sectors and between units in each sub-sector is leading to continuous investments to increase scale and shift towards more efficient gears

· This has also led to unfavourable distribution of the fish catch between sub-sectors. The mechanized sector with just 25% of the workforce has increased its share from less than 50% a decade back to over 67% in 2010. Inter-sectoral conflicts and adoption of banned gears by both mechanized and motorised boats are considerable

· The system for management is fragmented with the Department of Fisheries having only a limited control over what happens at sea. The MFRA implementation is only partial and varied and depends mostly on the cooperation of the fishing community. The MFRA is based on the typical top-down system of management that ignores that the marine fishing communities self-governing in nature and their self governing systems are still in place

· The fishing communities’ own systems of management are still very much in place, only there is weak coherence between the decisions taken by different villages and different groups reducing the efficacy of these systems. With both DoF and fishermen associations having their own sources of power and often both pulling in different directions, neither has adequate control on fishing

· All sections of the fishermen are feeling the heat of over capacity and cut-throat competition and are showing interest in finding radical solutions to the fishery problems. The restriction on fleet size and unit capacity put by the Chennai mechanized boat owners associations is just one indication of this. The demand for a buy-back” programme by trawl owners in the Palk Bay is another. However, the administration is unable to use this opportunity as it is locked into an unhealthy relationship with the fishing community based on a number of “welfare schemes” that make the relationship one of patron-client rather than partners in management

· Threats to the coastal and marine eco-system from non-fishery activities are on the increase and these are threatening to overtake over-fishing as the major cause for fish depletion, especially in near shore waters. The fisheries sector is weak in protecting its interests vis-à-vis other sectors and this is leading to considerable distress and unrest in many parts of the coast


· TN needs to recognise that its hitherto approach of unregulated growth of fishing capacity and weak management cannot continue any further. This requires a fundamental shift in approach and this can come only with the support of the fishing community itself. This also requires the development of a system of “co-management” that works on the basis of partnership between the fishing community and DoF with the community institutions playing a major role in fisheries management

· To use the village level traditional institutions as well as the self organized boat associations as building blocks for a new multi-tiered system to manage fisheries in the state. Eventually, a four tiered system with village or landing centre based institutions at the base could emerge. Starting with some of the FIMSUL initiated platforms, co-management can be experimented with as pilots including a state level platform and a Palk Bay platform.

· The structure has to evolve rather than be “set up” and the transfer of power take place in a gradual and orderly manner on the basis of demonstrated abilities to manage fisheries. The successful development of co-management also requires a large awareness and capacity building programme for the fishing community and a proper orientation for the DoF staff.

· An early shift from “open access” to “limited access” is recommended. The key to this would be to restrict the right to own fishing vessels. One option would be to restrict ownership to families who have been in fishing for at least one generation (25 years). Another option is to restrict ownership to owner-operators or active fishermen.

· Capacity controls have to be urgently introduced for the mechanized fleet while capacity controls for the artisanal fleet can evolve on need basis over a period of time. Freezing trawl fleet capacity and a strategy to reduce it is extremely important for the health of the resources and for the equitable distribution of fishing opportunities among the members of large fishing community. Such capacity reduction programmes can be designed in a manner that is not labour displacing.

· Trawl fleet reduction could be first started on a war footing in the Palk Bay, where the resolution of trans-border fishing will be difficult with a large trawl fleet on the TN side. A combination of fleet retirement and redeployment needs to be worked out urgently. Given that redeployment may be feasible only for a section of the fleet, a buy-back scheme aiming at fleet retirement or decommissioning needs urgent consideration. A full-fledged package for the Palk Bay that covers owners and workers needs to be developed through a combination of expert inputs and community dialogue

· Some of the important gear controls like the ban on pair trawls and ring seines need to be implemented by building community support for them and to show firmness in enforcement

· To develop the concept of “management plans”—both at geographical/spatial levels and resource levels—as instruments under the co-management system to ensure detailed planning at different levels of the fishery. Management plans can also be used to ensure that the current lack of coherence between fisheries and other departments like Environment and Forests can be addressed systematically

· With deep sea fishing on the entire west coast of India a monopoly of Kanyakumari fishermen, deep sea fishing in the Bay of Bengal offers a good opportunity for the north coastal districts. Here with the TN & P fishermen already having ventured beyond the shelf, it is likely that in the next few years TN fishermen will also dominate the deep sea fishing on the west coast

· While deep sea fishing has good potential for TN fishermen, some caution is required while developing it. Since the deep sea resources like sharks, tunas and bill fishes are international resources in the Indian Ocean targeted by 30 countries and the IOTC having already declared the Tuna resources optimally fished, there are obvious limits to the size of fleet that can be sustained. All Indian states also have ambitious plans for developing their own deep sea fleet. Poaching by foreign vessels and the operation of industrial scale vessels under the LOP scheme also limit what is available for a new fleet. Skill, aptitude and willingness to stay at sea for weeks together make deep sea fishing suitable only for those fishermen who possess all these attributes. Given that the Thoothoor fleet of 500 boats, which has the entire west coast of India for its arena, seems to have hit a ceiling, it may be not be safe to assume that a larger fleet can be sustained on the east coast of India. Deep sea fishing needs careful development and should not be seen as an easy solution to the problems of over capacity in coastal waters. TN also needs to lobby in Delhi for the scrapping of the LOP scheme to protect local interests.

· To develop various mechanisms to protect fishing interests in the ongoing competition for coastal and marine space and resources with other sectors. These could include a high level mechanism under the Chief Secretary that monitors and reviews all activities and projects that affect fishing. Ensuring a proper representation for the fishing community and other fisheries stakeholders in various decision making bodies, notably the SCZMA, State Pollution Control Board, etc., will go a long way in protecting fishing and fishing communities