By: Mariyam Suleman

Fishermen’s children play at the “PadiZir” (west bay) beach of Gwadar, the projected regional trade hub, while seeing their toiling fathers and elder brothers  optimistically dragging their boats toward the  tidal waves of the Arabian Sea abuts the shores of Makran coast.

“Things have  dramatically changed over the years. As a little boy, I used to get fish for free when the fishermen anchored their boats at the shore, but now we find fishermen complaining about the decreased number of fish in the sea. And with that the prices for fish have doubled in less than a decade.”  Hameed Baloch a local resident of Gwadar said while having an evening walk at the beach.

As Gwadar undergoes enormous social and economic changes, a change in fish industry disturbs seven out of every ten local residents. The Deep-sea port, the over $51 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the 650 km long Makran Coastal Highway connecting Gwadar with the metropolitan of  Karachi and the newly established sub-campus of Turbat University are all remarkable for Gwadar – which was previously a small harbor town of Balochistan in the south west of Pakistan.

The geographic importance of Gwadar and its interjection with three most economically powerful regions of the world have long drawn the attention of the contemporary  world. However, what has not graved the attention are the local residents, the fishermen community whose survival in the port city has become quite difficult lately.

“Fishermen’s issues have been dragging for years. Since most of the local citizen’s economy in Gwadar is based on fish production, the “Gwadaris” have been facing difficulty accessing even basic necessities such as food for everyday and other basic needs,”bitterly complains Hameed  and adds  “That is the underlying reason why every now and then we hear about the appraisals by the fishermen communities within or around Gwadar.”

In retrospect, the protesters accused the trawler mafias of Sindh for illegally overfishing into the waters of Balochistan’s coastal areas, but during the last few months, the fishermen have also alleged the trawler mafias for torturing them and scaring them of their lives. “Fishing is what we can do for living but it, too, has become a lurking threat to our lives. What else we can do now to make ends meet. We have only one option: to go for fishing regardless of its vulnerabilities,” shares Asif Ali, a local fishermen.

Trawlers or fishing vessels operate in deep sea waters actively dragging or pulling trawls through water scooping up along the seabed at high speed. Throughout the world this method of fishing is considered the most destructive form of deep-sea fishing that leaves behind a trial of devastation.

Yet, the owners of the trawlers are addicted to this disruptive technique because of its large scale catch that is reportedly sold in millions. However, more than one third of its catch is discarded, tossing back thousands of dead fish and other valuable marine life into the sea.

“Benefit to one specific group has caused drastic decline in marine species, troubled the lives of fishermen communities and has become major reason for the collapse of local economy. Trawlers owners’ interests should not be allowed to derail so many lives at once,” warns and suggests Barkatullah Baloch, a local social activist.

 “Exploiting the marine life can herald the arrival for days of hunger for fishermen and would also endanger the extremely valuable fish in the Makran Coast. Yet over the last fifteen years, the provincial government could not ban the illegal trawlers from overfishing along the Balochistan coast,” adds Baloch.

On the other hand, environmental vulnerabilities have concerned the local environmentalists. Abdul Rahim, a marine expert from Gwadar notifies that: “So far, trawlers have not only caused damages to marine ecology through catch but they are further polluting the water with oil and other pollutants.”

The most recent protests by the fishermen were held in December, 2016 and January, 2017 in Jiwani, Gwadar, Pishkan and Pasni, the  four major littoral  towns of Balochistan.

“Throughout the years we have been experiencing drop in catch and we knew the reasons; the large sea-trawlers from Sindh have been poaching into our coast, looting the fish in our sea but yet they are not completely banned. They torture us and take away our fishing net along with them,” complained Irfan, a fisherman from Pishukan. 

Balochistan has 770 kilometers long coast line, which is about 70% of Pakistan’s total coastal belt. Yet on average, the annual fish production is only 1, 47,000 tons which is in danger of further collapse if the trawlers continue to scoop up the marine life. In contrast, Sindh’s annual fish production is 3, 46,000 tons annually with its 350 kilometer long coastal belt.

Most fishermen complain that the higher fish production in Sindh is actually because the fish from Balochistan is all scooped up through trawlers and sold in Sindh, increasing their annual fish production. Furthermore, the fishermen have also pointed out that the owners of trawlers must have some very strong background; because after so many years of protests by locals and workers of political parties, the government has dismally failed to stringently outlaw them.

“In the recent times, when we (the fishermen) resisted their presence in the Makran Coast, the trawler mafias started to torture us. Two recent cases of torture have appeared in Pasni and Jiwani. Our livelihood has by far been taken away and now we are ominously threatened to attain sustenance for our lives. Fishing is not a safe livelihood anymore,” shared Irfan with worried eyes sorely bereft of hope.

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Seemingly, the Fisheries Department has demonstrated concerns about the pressing issues of fishermen of Balochistan. However, it has thus far done nothing concrete to ally the mounting grievances of the disillusioned local fishermen. Conversely, an Assistant Director  associated to the Fisheries Department has claimed to have recently caught three trawlers, and the workers of these trawlers are in legal custody.

In a previous interview, the A.D Fisheries Department also ensured to put forward the policy to reserve provincial territorial water for up to 20 nautical miles which is presently limited to 12 nautical miles.

Formal legislation for reservation of provincial territorial waters was first introduced in 1972 for the protection of poor fishermen’s interests using simple fishing methods. However, the policy has not yet safeguarded the rights of the local fishermen, thus several organizations at the local and provincial levels have jumped into foray by sensitizing the issues and the rights of fishermen, namely the Balochistan Fishermen Network, the Meedh Itehad (Fishermen Association) and the Pakistan Fishermen Folk Forum.

Previously, a representative of the Meedh Itehad, Khudad Waju said: “The destruction caused by trawlers is not new to Gwadar or Balochistan. The Meedh Itehad has been raising the issue since 2004. And since then, we have been hearing about mega projects in the wake of the Gwadar Port and CPEC, but we have not heard of any mega management for our people yet. Thus far, there is hardly any policy that protect the rights and lives of the fishermen in Balochistan.”

K.B Firaq, a local social activist, remarked: “From quite a few years, we have worked with the Pakistan Fishermen Folk Forum and have created policies to declare fishermen as laborers. This would, in turn, immensely help protect their rights from being grossly violated and provide them life insurance, free education for their children, health and other facilities. But it has been over a decade to our campaigns and policies we have not made any stride in this regard.”

The local fishermen have continued to claim that the illicit trawlers have not been banned in a satisfactory fashion. They vehemently criticize the government and higher quarters of feathering their own nests out of this unlawful business while turning a blind eye to the oft-neglected concerns of the long-suffering local fishermen and potential threats to their lives, livelihoods and the deteriorating marine ecology of the long-deprived province.

 Courtesy: The Balochistan Point

Disclaimer:The Asia Watch has sought prior editorial approval from The  Balochistan Point to republish some of its opinion pieces. After selection, opinion pieces go through an editorial process and necessary changes, especially pertaining to the language, are brought in.

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