It’s the proverbial case of the big or ‘the alien’ fish eating the small or ‘the native’ ones. Goa’s small fishermen are fighting a losing battle against big fishermen, who are not just from within the state but also those infiltrating into its territorial waters from other states.
Territorial waters is the area in the sea extending up to 12 nautical miles from the shoreline or the low-water mark of a coastal state. This belt comes under the jurisdiction of the state and is kept off-limits to trawlers from other states for a specified period to protect the livelihood of local fishermen. Goa does not allow trawlers from outside into its sea from May 31 to August 31 every year.
This Lakshman rekha in Goan waters is allegedly being repeatedly breached by trawlers from other coastal states in the region.
The last few years have seen colour-coded mechanised fishing boats from other states regularly swarming Goa’s territorial waters to allegedly scoop up huge illegal catch. And, as they do this, the state’s coastal vigilance and policing authorities either sleep or just look the other way, claim those in the know.
These alleged incursions by outside fishermen, mostly from Karnataka and Gujarat, into Goa’s protected waters are denting the livelihoods of small local fishermen, not to say they also heighten the state’s security peril. Close to 5-10 per cent of the tiny coastal state’s population is dependent on fishing and allied activities.
Custodio Camilo Souza, Vice President of Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, told GT digital that these trawlers use illegal means like high-speed boat engines (up to 750-800 horsepower as against up to 250 horsepower engines permissible by law), LED fishing and bull trawling to pull off their fish heist in Goan waters. Around 300 boats annually descend on the Goan waters to haul up a catch in 15 days that is equivalent to small fishermen’s yearly catch.
This has led to the harvest of small fishermen dwindling by the year. Souza said it is down to 3-4 tonnes per fisherman each year from 15-20 tonnes a few years back. The state’s annual average marine and inland fish production was around 86,027 and 3669 tonnes respectively in 2021.
No amount of flailing their arms in the air is drawing the attention of the local authorities to this problem – all grievances on this issue have gone unheard by the government till now.
Nonetheless, the occupational grouse still gets mentioned in every memorandum submitted to the government by the traditional fishermen’s lobby body – Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott. As it did in the latest letter shot off by them to the central and state fisheries ministers and Goa’s directorate of fisheries in May this year.
Custodio Camilo Souza
“Illegal boats from Malpe (a natural port town) in Karnataka are continuously entering the territorial waters of Goa using high speed engines and scoop up all the fishes by illegally using bull trawling methods,” states the note.
“It is an utter shame that even after the local fishermen have caught these illegal boats and brought it to the notice of the fisheries department; still these boats are conducting fishing in our state without fear of law.”
Left to their own device, with little help from the government, the local fishermen are hot on the heels of the intruding illegal fishermen. Olencio Simoes, general secretary of National Fish Workers Forum, told GT digital that in the last two years they have been successful in capturing two illegal trawlers from other states in Benaulim and Baga. The culprits were handed over to the local authorities, only to be let off within hours.
The local fishermen are able to easily detect boats from outside the state in local waters because of their colour coding as each state mandates a different colour. That was the biggest give-away when, after a recent storm, a medley of colourful boats appeared at the fishing harbour of Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) in Vasco. They rule out the possibility of such a large number of boats inadvertently drifting into the Goan sea.
The traditional fishermen, from whom no happening in the Goan waters escapes, were astounded by the number of non-Goan boats docked at the MPT jetty after sea calmed down and expressed their concern to the authorities, but to no avail.
Souza said the whole game was increasingly turning perilous with illegal trawlers attacking with rifles and knives. He said they were armed to the teeth to even take on the coastal police.
He informed that during one of their bids, along with the coastal police, to capture an outside boat in Canacona, a gun battle ensued between the illegal fishermen and cops, forcing them to beat a retreat. “In Canacona, these people attacked the policemen. It’s a joke. When systems are not in place they will attack the police also,” he lamented.
Simoes is worried if the raids for fish continued, Goa’s fisheries industry could get severely impacted, which in turn could hit the state’s economy. As per government data, the marine fisheries sector contributes about 3 per cent of the state’s GDP and 17 per cent of the agricultural GDP. It constitutes nearly 2 per cent of the country’s total marine fish production.