Foreign fishing sparks fisheries strike in India - Canadian fishermen warn of stock collapse

January 23, 1996

Canadian fishermen today called on the government of India to reconsider its fisheries policy in order to avoid the same overfishing which destroyed Canada’s groundfish stocks.

François Poulin, President of the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, said India’s current policy of licensing foreign factory boats to fish offshore stocks is shortsighted and could destroy the Indian fishing industry.

Poulin’s statements came in support of a massive fisheries strike which paralyzed fishing activity all along the Indian coast and disrupted shipping in all of India’s major harbours. More than 8 million fishers and allied workers observed the one day strike to protest the Indian government’s deep sea fishing policy.

Under the policy the Indian government hopes to increase its export earnings by $500 million by licensing foreign fleets to fish in India’s offshore waters. At dispute is the state of India’s fish stocks and the availability of fish protein for domestic consumption in India.

“As Canadians we know how devastating overfishing can be and how quickly stocks can disappear. Our experience with the collapse of groundfish has been brutal. It is something that no other country should have to live through.”

“The Indian government should proceed with extreme caution. The benefits from increased export earnings will only be short lived while the human costs of stock collapse are unimaginable in the Indian context given the importance of fish in the country’s diet.”

The Indian government argues that the country’s fish stocks are under exploited, that landings can be sustainably increased by up to 80 per cent and that foreign fishing technology is required to harvest those stocks that are beyond the reach of India’s artisanal and inshore fleets.

Leaders of India’s traditional fishing fleets say the government is vastly underestimating current fishing levels and that the foreign factory ships threaten not only the country’s fish stocks but the diets of 300 million Indians.

According to Thomas Kocherry, a leader of India’s National Fishworkers Forum, the gear used by the industrial trawlers and huge purse seiners has been banned in most industrialized fishing countries.

“If these fleets become fully operational they could replace India’s 8 million fishworkers and instead of fish for Indians our fish will be exported to feed the Japanese or used as animal feed in industrialized countries.”

Kocherry pointed out that the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and a US company Consolidated Sea Foods are among the companies that have signed joint venture
agreements with Indian companies under the government’s new fishing policy. Greenpeace research also estimates that most fish exports from the developing world are used to make animal feed and fertilizer.

The leaders of the Indian fisheries strike will be meeting later this week to plan further activities in their push for the repeal of the foreign fishing licenses.


You can see the media release in its original format here.