Indian fishers organise protest in Geneva against WTO's proposal to curb subsidies

Mathrubhumi file photo for representation

Geneva [Switzerland]: Members of the fishing community from several coastal areas of India on Sunday protested against the World Trade Organization (WTO) proposal to curb fishery subsidies as it was not responsive to the demands of the developing nations.

"If subsidy stops for traditional fishermen, their lives and livelihood will be stopped. So this should not be against the traditional fishermen, if the subsidy discipline is required it should be for industrial fishermen. This is our main demand," said Biman Jana, from West Bengal.

The draft does not adequately address the concerns on food security and livelihood of small fishers while including provisions that could help advanced countries perpetuate their huge dole for long-distance fishing.

During the 12th World Trade Organisation ministerial meet that began on June 12, fishermen from across India assembled outside the United Nations Office, Geneva and protested against the proposed cut and explained how huge fishing giants from Europe and China are responsible for the depletion of marine resources.

To protect the interest of the Indian fisher population a group of 34 fishers from India has arrived at Geneva, representing Gujarat (5), Maharashtra (6), Goa (1), Karnataka (2), Kerala (6), Tamil Nadu (5), Andhra Pradesh (4) and West Bengal (5) states of India.

"I am a ninth-generation fisherman and my family has been involved in fishing for ages. The fishing boats from developed nations like China and Europe catch thousands of tonnes of fish, freeze them on the boat and they take it away," said a protesting fisherman from Maharashtra.

Indian fishermen need this subsidy for their survival. India has an 8,118 KM coastline with an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.08 Million SqKm.

According to the CMFRI Census 2016, the total marine fisher folk population is 3.77 million comprising 0.90 million families. They reside in 3,202 fishing villages (DoF, GoI Statistics Data).

Nearly 67.3 per cent of the fishermen's families were under the BPL category. The average family size was 4.63 and the overall sex ratio was 928 females per 1000 males.

"I am fishermen's family. There are more women in fishing across our country. If this subsidy is taken away, women will be affected the most. If the subsidy is gone our 'kutumb' will be gone too", said Jyotibua, a fisherwoman from Maharashtra.

India is in favour of stopping IUU (illegal, unreported, unregulated) fishing and supporting sustainable fishing by checking harmful subsidies.

Another Indian fisherman protesting said that they pick up plastic from the sea as plastic pollution leads to depletion of fisheries. He said that no other country does this (picking up plastics).

However, the text is tilted heavily towards advanced fishing nations letting them maintain their subsidies for high-sea fishing.

At the same time, developing countries are denied adequate carve-outs that could hurt both livelihood and food security interests.

"If this subsidy is taken away, it will be a matter of life and death for us. We treat the sea as our father and respect it so much that we do not even go fishing on the night of 'amavasya'. We will not be able to survive if this subsidy is taken away," said a fisherman from Gujarat.

In the ongoing talks on curbing fishery subsidies, negotiations are taking place under three categories -- IUU, over-fished (where stock is already declared as overfished) and over-fishing and over-capacity.

As the standards are set by advanced fishing countries, it is easy for them to follow. Developing nations, on the other hand, may not be in a position to immediately show those standards.

Traditional fisheries involve fishing households (as opposed to commercial companies), using a relatively small amount of capital and energy, relatively small fishing vessels usually about 20 meters in overall length, making short fishing trips, close to shore. It is also called small-scale fisheries.

The marine fishery in India is small-scale and provides food security to millions of people.

There is no industrial fishing in India. Industrial fishing by developed nations involves large fishing vessels conducting fishing activities in High Seas beyond EEZ and also within EEZ and is detrimental to fish stock.

There are around 2 lakh fishing crafts in Indian waters of which 59,000 (37 per cent) are mechanised and the remaining are non-motorized fishing crafts.

The Indian boat type ranges from the traditional catamarans, masula boats, plank-built boats, dug-out canoes, machwas, dhonis to the present-day motorized fibre-glass boats, mechanized trawlers and gillnetters.

The traditional and sustainable fishing practices by Indian fishers are being practised for thousands of years and it is only subsistence fishing.

The Indian fisheries' resources are conserved and protected well by the fishers by their traditional and cultural beliefs.

Sustainable fisheries are supported by the Government by means of a declaration of fishing holidays for a period of 61 days and implementation of fisheries regulation act by the concerned states.

India is not a major fishery subsidy provider. Meanwhile, China, the EU and the US offer an annual fishery subsidy of USD 7.3 billion, USD 3.8 billion and USD 3.4 billion, respectively, India offered just USD 277 million in subsidies in 2018 to small fishers.

Subsidy assistance to fishers helps them to venture into fishing for supporting their livelihood and protection of their family. The stoppage of subsidy assistance to fishers in India will ultimately affect millions of fishers and their families and will lead to poverty.


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