Monday, December 6, 2021

Inland fisherfolk fear for living as licensing issues rock their boats

HYDERABAD: Though the contract system for fishing in inland waters was replaced with licence system 12 years ago in 2008, there has been no relief for fisherfolk, who continue to face problems at the hands of allegedly non-cooperative as well as corrupt government officials.

Reports gathered from the community activists from different waters show that only 15-20 percent boats/helpers have licences, while the rest of the boat owners as well as helpers do not have licences.

Irshad Gandro, a community activist at Keenjhar Lake, said there were around 2,000 small fishing boats operating at this major water body, out of which hardly 20 percent boat owners had licences.

The provincial inland fisheries department has provided 1.5 million fish seed in the current season, aiming to benefit the community. Usually the lake used to receive fish seed through its natural feeding source Kalri Baghar (KB) Feeder flowing from the river Indus near Kotri barrage. “But after discharging/dumping industrial waste in the canal throughout its route fish seed cannot survive,” Gandro said.

Despite the cold the community people look happy, but some rowdy elements seem reluctant to get licences.

After abolition of contract system the government has decided to fix Rs560 for a boat and Rs111 for helper. Each small boat requires one or two helpers for a catch.

Similarly on annually renewal of licence the boats have to pay Rs500 to operate.

Besides boats, there are 220 people who use matka at the Keenjhar Lake for fishing, and they also have to get licence individually paying Rs111.

The season of getting licence at inland waters starts from July 1 to June 30.

Sindh province has 1209 registered fresh water bodies. The department officials as well as the community leaders do not have exact data about the status of waters as majority of waters either have been degraded completely or are fighting for survival. A number of water bodies receive effluent from industries situated near them through irrigation channels.

Ramzan Mallah, another community activist at Chotiari reservoir in Sanghar district said currently around 1,600 boats were operating in the reservoir, but hardly 20 percent had licences.

Talking about the cruel contract system, Mallah said certain influential persons had taken over around 30 waters in Sanghar district, claiming these waters were on their family’s lands.

The contract system was abolished in 2008. After that the Sindh Assembly through amendments in 1980 fisheries ordinance issued a notification in 2012 so that the community may have rights on these waters.

He pleaded that the government in its notification had defined the rights of fishermen and waters, according to which they were the owners to use their tools for catching fish without any restrictions.

He said it is the responsibility of inland fisheries department authorities to do the demarcation of all waters so the community people may stay safe and operate their vessels in their areas without fear.

“Because, certain landlords have hired fishermen for catching fish as labourers, depriving them of their rights on waters, while paying them little,” he said.

He said middlemen/traders belonging to the fishermen community themselves were exploiting the poor fishermen in terms of getting licences.

Mustafa Mirani of Manchhar Lake, who is also vice chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, accused the inland fisheries department officials of creating hindrances in licensing process. Giving example, he said he himself paid fees for eight licences for the community but the officials did not comply.

“Actually, these officials wanted to create a situation for re-imposing contract system in which certain influential persons take over waters and force fishermen to work as bonded labour,” Mirani said, adding that the fishermen had launched a struggle against this cruel system to live and work in a free environment.

Therefore, he said the fishermen did not want the officials to make a case for the reintroduction of contract system.

Mirani said Manchhar Lake, despite being a larger water body, was experiencing problems of pollution. Majority of workers had migrated to other water bodies, including marine waters in search of better livelihood, he added.

Presently, there are hardly 400-450 fishing boats operating in the lake. Due to declining livelihoods, the community people were not willing invest in getting new boats. Previously, Mirani said they had 1,100 licences for boats.

He said the fishermen were facing challenges one after another like rain-flood disasters, increasing degradation because of pollution, declining fish catch and dumping waste through Main Nara Valley (MNV) drain.

The community activists appealed to the government to initiate monitoring mechanism and spot-checking to compel the community to get licences as per the law. The responsible fishermen must be fined if they were unable to produce a licence, they added.

Some activists have pointed out that the lands on which a number of fresh water bodies are located have been allotted to landlords for agriculture purposes, depriving the community of their right to fish.

Mir Allahdad Talpur, director general inland fisheries department, said the provincial government under World Bank-funded project had taken an initiative to provide fish seed to help poor workers to have fish for maintaining need of nutrition, besides selling extra fish for earning a better livelihood.

“But the community is seen insincere to extend cooperation with government officials to maintain their own source of livelihood,” Talpur said, adding, “That is why several water bodies directly or indirectly have come under the control of influential persons, who hire the same community people to work as labourers”.

“We have planned to have fish seed for 100 waters initially, so the community may continue their livelihood. But the federal government is creating hindrances and we are waiting for approval for rehabilitation of degraded waters and protecting biodiversity,” DG fisheries said. Talpur further said there should be an auction system under the provincial government where fishermen could sell the product.

Source: The News

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