Unsustainable fishing practices – A serious threat to India’s marine resources

Tonnes of fish caught through unsustainable fishing are being used by the fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) industries which supply feed to global aquaculture chains. These are wreaking havoc on fish stocks. The FMFO industry was considered a solace for fishermen as it purchased the trash fish (which is not edible) that came in with the catch. But the scenario has changed as the FMFO industries have now turned into a threat to the fisheries sector as the income from supplying to these industries is driving unsustainable fishing.
A study in India, Vietnam and Gambia by Netherlands-based Changing Markets (CM) Foundation highlights the hazards caused due to the present functioning of these industries. Tonnes of fish, including juvenile and edible ones, are being caught, processed and exported to various countries resulting in the collapse of fish stocks and marine ecology, imbalances in food security and causing severe environmental issues, pollution and overexploitation, said the study report, “Fishing For Catastrophe.” The CM report claimed that these companies are causing the decline of local fish stock.
As part of the study, in India, two regions were selected—the Mangalore-Karwar belt and the Vishakhapatnam region of Andhra Pradesh.
Unsustainable fishing driven by the income from the FMFO industry may bring an end to fisheries soon. In 2017, India’s aquafeed market was valued at $1.20 billion. Its domestic feed mills (fish feed factories of India) have the capacity to produce 2.88 million metric tonnes (MT), said the study.
Divya Karnad, a marine biologist and assistant professor at the Haryana-based Ashoka University said that the FMFO industries originally started as a solution to the trash fish been generated in the catch. “Ideally trawlers should take measures for bycatch reduction. Presently, trawl fisheries are mainly dependent on this bycatch income. If the FMFO plants were not there, many of the trawlers would have gone out of the sector,” he added.
Ineffective laws
The professor pointed out that each state in India has got specific laws to protect marine ecology but none of them has actually been implemented and the laws just remain on paper.
For instance, as per the government rule in Karnataka, in bottom trawling nets with mesh size more than 35 millimetres should be used and in other methods of fishing nets with mesh size, more than 20 mm should be used. It is alleged that there are many trawl boats that use smaller nets than prescribed measures.
“Up to the 12 nautical miles, the state government can implement laws (regarding fishing). From 12 to 200 nautical miles, we still have no rules,” Dr.K.Sunil Mohamed, principal scientist at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), mentioned.
According to the CM study, in both Mangalore and Malpe ports, the investigators found that bycatch mainly consisted of juvenile and extremely damaged fish. “At both harbours, the investigation team found several piles of pelagic fish, including pomfret, juvenile mackerel, juvenile cuttlefish and silverfish,” the study said.
Juvenile fishing is considered a major reason for the decline of certain species. The CM study said that FMFO plants have to be blamed for the decline of Indian oil sardine in many parts of India.
The study also revealed that in Vietnam, which is one of the world’s leading fishmeal producers, unsustainable fishing practices has caused fish stock reduction and due to which boats are regularly fishing in foreign waters which is prohibited.
The situation in the Gambia is not very different. The country has one of the world’s richest fishing grounds but despite that, the nation’s food security is declining over the years, the CM study emphasised. It is due to “fluctuating populations of Bonga fish (also known as shad), which experienced a crash of 40% between 2013 and 2014.” The study even said, “Gambian fishmeal plants continue to be involved in social and environmental scandals.”
The study quoted the Indian government’s Agriculture Ministry’s 2017 National Policy on Marine Fisheries in India which had stressed on dangers of the fish feed industry.
“Use of low-value fish species in the fish feed industry is becoming a matter of concern as it can lead to overfishing of such species and by-catch, and could undermine the integrity of the marine ecosystem. The spread of fish meal plants in some coastal states and their overwhelming demand for small pelagics (like oil sardines) has led to overfishing, resulting in reduced stocks of small pelagics in some parts of the country,” the policy said.
Extinction of fish
Mohamed said that juvenile catch could result in fish extinction as well as restrain fishermen from a better profit. “In juvenile catch, we don’t allow a fish to grow to its maximum size. With that fishermen will not get a good price, as well as people, will not get quality fish. Another issue with this that through juvenile catch, a chance of reproducing another generation been lost,” Mohamed said.
The CM report said it’s not just the trash fish that goes to FMFO plants. It points out that about 30-40% of the catch in Karnataka goes to the FMFO plants including the species fit for human consumption.
“Significant quantities of ‘food’ rather than ‘trash’ fish are being diverted to the fish meal plants. Local people rely on locally caught fish for their protein needs, and it is becoming harder for them to compete within the new system,” said the study pointing towards the imbalances it creates on food security.
Food security to be hit
The CM report emphasised that sardine is a staple food in the south of India and its decline has affected food security. “In June 2019, media outlets reported that the drastic decline in sardines has left Kerala’s fishermen in crisis and is affecting food security in the region,” said the report.
Experts point out that juvenile catch could result in fish extinction and impact profits of fishermen.
Divya Karnad said since most of the FMFO is exported it requires a minimum quality to meet the standards given by foreign countries, which lead these plants to go for quality fish than trash fish.
“They cannot use semi decayed fish to make the fish meal as it would not meet the standards of European countries. In order to meet the standards, they use high-quality fish which is our food,” said Karnad.
The study recommends soybean and palm-oil production as an alternative to the FMFO. Fish feed made of food waste, mealworms, algae, is being globally discussed as sustainable alternatives.
Regulating the mesh size of fishing nets is another solution often suggested to control juvenile fish. And strict adherence to standards by the aquafarms can also be a solution.
This piece first appeared on Mongabay-India.
Source: Quartz India