The interests of Indian fishermen at risk
If the problems of overfishing and depletion of marine resources persist, it can have a negative impact on the catches of small-scale fishermen and their livelihoods.
For some time now, a round of negotiations has been underway at the WTO, in which an agreement is expected to be reached to end subsidies to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. These talks would form part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to end subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing while ensuring special and differential treatment for developing countries and those in need. less advanced. But if this deal goes through, it can harm the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen in India and other developing and underdeveloped countries.
It is true that the world is facing the problem of overfishing and the depletion of marine resources. If this situation persists, it may have an impact on the catches of small-scale fishermen and their livelihoods. The idea of the United Nations that overfishing will affect sustainable development is still justified. But the big question is: who is responsible for overfishing in the ocean? At least small-scale fishermen in India or other developing countries with very low fishing capacity are nowhere to blame for this.
Fishing is done in two ways. One, by little fishermen catching fish in their boats; and secondly by the trawlers and large vessels of large companies. Over the past decades, the evidence for fishing by large vessels and trawlers in a mechanized manner by large companies has increased dramatically.
Indian small-scale fishermen do not fish in the ocean during the rainy season. Know why? Because it is the breeding season for fish. But the big trawlers do not hesitate to fish during the same period. However, since large trawlers fall under the organized sector, small fishermen will be considered illegal, unreported and unregulated; and the subsidy given to them by governments will end but the large trawlers and vessels will continue to have the right to fish from the sea by mechanical means and also government subsidies. In such a situation, the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen in India and other developing countries will be compromised while large corporations benefit at their expense.
Unfortunately, under pressure from developed countries and large companies, at the WTO, the exercise is continuing to advance the agreement on this subject. World Trade Organization Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said completing these fisheries subsidy negotiations is the top priority of the WTO, not only for fisheries but also for the WTO system. And this is done under the guise of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
It should be noted that after the licensing of large trawlers in India in the early 1990s, due to their overfishing, the availability of marine fish is dwindling. As a result, the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen were compromised. At that time, there was great agitation to highlight this problem of fishermen, including those led by Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Father Thomas Kochery, due to which the government of the day had to stop renewing the licenses of the fishermen. large trawlers.
After a while, the trawlers again started to get clearance. Once again, the demand for a re-ban of trawlers by environmentalists is gaining momentum. An Indian government committee is working to regulate these trawlers. Environmentalists say banning these trawlers is the appropriate solution to the problem of overfishing. Although these trawlers have not been banned outright, many states, including Kerala and Orissa, have banned trawlers during the monsoon (rainy season) at the request of traditional fishermen to ensure that fish farming. fish is not affected.
It is argued that the agreement on fisheries subsidies will ensure the availability of fish and the protection of marine resources for future generations. In this regard, if an international organization can ban fisheries subsidies, it is the World Trade Organization. The rule-making exercise in this regard has continued since 2001, with the start of the Doha rounds of negotiations. However, what is interesting is that although all the remaining provisions of the Doha Development Round have already been outright rejected by developed countries, surprisingly, the exercise is underway to end the fisheries subsidy. .
It is true that today there is 34 percent overfishing, whereas in 1974 it was only 10 percent. Due to overfishing, the availability of fish is gradually decreasing, which negatively affects the livelihoods of people living in coastal areas and their poverty increases. Today, around 40 million people around the world depend on fishing, so the security of their lives is linked to the protection of marine resources.
Although the current negotiations are focused on eliminating subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, these efforts face strong opposition from developing countries. Developing countries, including India, believe that ending fisheries subsidies will negatively affect the livelihoods and rights of their small-scale fishers. Although it was said in the resolution that special and differential treatment for developing countries and less developed countries is part of the proposals, but it seems that small-scale fishermen in developing countries will suffer the most from this agreement.
Surprisingly, while all was still during, these talks continued unabated. Therefore, due to travel restrictions, the views of small countries whose missions are not in Geneva could not be adequately incorporated into this document. It is also for this reason that there is anger in this context among developing countries. Recently, when the Director General of the World Trade Organization visited India, India made it clear that although due to irrational subsidies from various countries for fishing, Indian small-scale fishermen were suffering the most, due to overfishing from developed countries. Therefore, it is necessary to eliminate the subsidy given to large vessels in these developed countries. Therefore, India has made it clear in this context that the draft text is not balanced. In this regard, special treatment will be required for developing countries and this agreement can only be balanced by incorporating India’s suggestions.
India’s demand is that developed countries stop subsidizing fisheries that go beyond their natural geographic boundaries. The industrial fishing countries are not ready to concede it. India wants the granting of subsidies to continue to protect the interests of its poor and small-scale fishermen. There is no illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in India. India maintains that since the inception of the WTO, developed countries have received special concessions and that their agricultural subsidies have continued unabated, while the rights of developing countries have been restricted. This mistake should not be repeated in this agreement on fisheries subsidies.
Today, the need of the hour is that India and the other developing and least developed countries face this fanaticism of the rich countries and that there be no unbalanced and irrational agreement concerning the fishing subsidies, so that we can protect the interests of our small and poor fishermen.
(The author is Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi. The opinions expressed are personal.)