Fish Fight; October 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Mukerjee; 2 Page(s)
On August 7, Thomas Kocherry of the National Fishworkers¿ Forum (NFF) in India began an indefinite hunger strike; three days later fisherfolk around the nation followed with a blockade of harbors. The protesters were demanding the revocation of licenses granted to foreign vessels for fishing within the Indian maritime zone. The enormous capacity of these ships, they claimed, threatened the livelihood of more than eight million traditional fishermen.
This skirmish is only the latest in a decades-long war between the government and the fishermen of India. In 1970 the Ministry of Food Processing Industries subsidized the purchase of 180 high-tech trawlers to exploit waters deeper than 50 meters. These vessels dragged weighted, fine-mesh nets across the seafloor in search of shrimp, collecting entire ecosystems. The ravaged seabed lost its ability to nurture fish, and at least 350,000 tons of nontarget species, or "trash fish," were tossed out annually. By 1990 the shrimp grounds were overfished and most of the trawlers idle. Although the richer inshore waters were reserved for small boats, Harekrishna K. Debnath of the NFF asserts that the trawlers routinely encroached within 50 meters. The traditional sector saw its catch drop precipitously.