India is considering solutions to curb over fishing business that threatens the economy and local people. With the consultation of the Indian government, organizations and scientists, the NGO Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which fights for the preservation of the oceans, works to save what remains of the marine resources there, by driving a sustainable fishing movement off Karnataka and Kerala, two states in the south of the country.
Nine maritime states at the crossroads of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean border India. The majority of local coastal populations depend on fish as the main source of protein to fight hunger and maintain employment. In total, the fishing business concerns no less than 20 million citizens. Structurally, the sector contributes to economic growth, and the Asian giant considers that the future of its economy goes through this.
But in an emerging country, the road is tedious before it can thrive. Particularly in India, where the over exploitation of marine resources, estimated at 35.4%, is strong. In a state that has to develop around its biodiversity, it is more than an ecological scourge. It is an economic and social drama that worries communities. And for good reason since marine resources add value to the country’s GDP, to the point of making it the fourth largest exporting industry worldwide, according to the UN. Exports to India amounted to $ 6.68 billion in the last fiscal year. The most exported species are shrimp, cuttlefish and lobster, but the sector as a whole is fragile. As the oceans empty, as a result of the fishing effort, India calls for vigilance over the loss of a central part of its economy.
On the west coast of the country, in the dormant waters of Lake Ashtamudi, the fishermen of clams working in their wooden canoes. In 1991, the “harvests” reached 10,000 tonnes per year. Two years later, the clam population collapsed due to over fishing. Should we continue to manhandle the endless resource or keep it long-term ?
On this issue, local fishermen have decided in the interest of future generations. Many have chosen virtuous initiatives by promoting sustainable fishing to curb economic and social collapse. And when artisans of the sea take the lead in conserving their livelihoods, mobilization escapes neither government, international organizations and researchers.
Through the voice of the MSC, the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), a state body, decided in 2010 to start with a certification system based on the ecological expertise of the NGO. It is about educating fishermen about the practice of sustainable fishing that respects marine ecosystems. A fundamental movement is launched. With the actors better placed to convince on the front line of the fight: the fishermen themselves, united in collectives and local fishing councils (“village clam fishery councils”). Structured community action, supported by WWF India. The organization is collaborating in the ecological transition on site with the Department of Fisheries of the State of Kerala and the CMFRI.
To make up for the lack of know-how in India, scientists have shown the way : clam fishing was closed for three months during the resource reproduction period, a size limit has been defined so that only mast clams can be consumed, and mechanical fishing has been prohibited. As a result, the harvest has stabilized, to the point of establishing a flourishing sustainable economy on the horizon, estimated at around 13.5 million rupees (172,500 euros per year). In 2014, the clam fishery in Ashtamudi became the first fishery in India, and the third in Southeast Asia to be recognized by MSC for its ambitious commitment and its virtuous approach.
Mechanically, on the ground, the transition to more sustainable fishing works, provided that the Indian government and export companies (to Japan, Europe or the United States in particular) continue to support it financially. Because the internal market alone cannot be enough today to create wealth. In fact, the fishermen of Ashtamudi were stopped in their tracks towards a sustainable economy. Suspended, sustainable clam fishing has not been renewed. This is the tragedy of small-scale fishing in India: it is all a question of means. The scale of the country’s economic development comes up against the lack of external funds. But if this aspect gives rise to legitimate fears, the progressive acculturation of the population to the principle of sustainable development reveals another reality, full of hope.
Before the launch of this project in Ashtamudi, we started from scratch in India in terms of sustainable fishing. To make the concept known, it was necessary to spread the word. Conferences on the concept of “environmental sustainability” in processing factories, as well as training on sustainable management of resources in fisher men’s cooperatives has made it possible to develop knowledge on the subject. In total, three hundred different actors (governmental, scientific, fishermen, international organizations, companies, etc.) have acquired knowledge enabling them to implement the ecological transition.
The news of 2020 is the creation of the Sustainable Seafood Network of India (SSNI) platform, which brings together scientists, international organizations such as WWF and MSC, politicians, fishermen and academics to popularize projects to improve fishing practices, influence local governments and campaign for subsidies. Without this cooperation, resources risk drying up to the point of disappearing, as is the case with lobster, which is almost no longer found.
With nearly three hundred fisheries in India, the pressure is great but choices have to be made. Priority is given to thirty species (blue swimmer, squid and Indian octopus, skipjack tuna, shrimp) which move in groups and are intended for export. It will surely take many more in the long term, but for fishermen, for populations and the local economy, creating a label for these targeted resources is a first relief.
Ten species are already affected by these projects to improve fishing practices. Before we can talk about “sustainable fishing”, the road is long. But the fact that ecological practices are assessed according to UN-recognized MSC environmental sustainability standards bodes well. This is one of the keys to transforming the rules of the fishing industry, and the card to play to integrate a virtuous framework. The Indian government has published a first report assessing progress towards the UN’s sustainable development goals, and passed several laws to improve fishing practices (NPMF, National Policy on Marine Fisheries in 2017; KMFR, Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation in 2017–2018).
The existence of a real local Indian market for seafood is not out of reach, but it will take time. Already, a niche is looming in cities like Bangalore, New Delhi and Bombay. Large retailers like Nature’s Basket offer sustainable MSC food, and more and more citizens are looking for these products. This model is doomed to develop, provided that fishermen manage to extend the certification policy. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the evaluation of skipjack tuna fishing practices was postponed to 2021, supported by WWF India and the Pole and Line Foundation.
Until then, the focus is on empowerment women. This includes the creation of training and auditory professions to assess fishing practices. Opportunities to raise the social condition of women in India, which can at the same time help the country to develop local labor to assess current ecological projects.
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