The seven-month-long fishing banÂ and the perpetual bad weatherÂ are making life difficult for state fisher folk
A seven-month-longÂ fishing banÂ near a 20-kilometre stretch of coastline at Gahirmatha marine sanctuaryÂ in Odishaâs Kendrapara district â imposed to protect the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles â has created a conflict between environmentalists and local marine fisher folk.
While conservationists support the fishing ban â imposed between November 1 and to May 31 every year â to protect the turtle species, marine fisher folks launched a protest demanding protection of their fishing rights.
Ranjan Behera, 30, was among six fishermen who were arrested by the forest guards on January 7, 2019,Â for fishing near the marine sanctuary. Their boat was also seized. The fishermen were released on January 14, 2019,Â after spending a week in jail.
âI was released from jail, but forest officialsÂ areÂ yet to return my boat. I had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh last year to purchase the boat.Â I have been running from pillar to post to get it back,â says a worried Ranjan.
Another fisherman, Banaambar Rout from Ramanagar village, adds, âThe large capital required to buildÂ a fishing vessel is beyond the means of many persons, as one trawler costs around Rs 20 lakh to Rs 35 lakh. IÂ purchased a trawler two years backÂ with a loan of Rs 20 lakh. But last month, forest officials seized my trawler in Gahirmatha, and now I am in deep trouble.â
Like RanjanÂ and Banaambar, the fates of many fishermen â hailing from Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak and BalasoreÂ districtsÂ âhangs in balance.
âA gloomy future awaits around 50,000 marine fishermen every time the authorities impose theÂ seven-month-long fishing ban,â says Narayan Haldar, a leader of the fisher folk and secretary ofÂ Odisha Masyajibi Forum.
âSince the ban, fishing has been very hardâŚ But what else can I do? It’s all I know. There’s nothing else to do here,â says Ashok Mandal,Â a fisherman from Batighar village.
Double whammy for fisher folk
Fisher men complain of losing their livelihood as theyâre neither catching enough fish, nor are they getting paid enough for what they catch.
The ban along with perpetual bad weather,Â due to low pressure in the sea,Â is furtherÂ adding to their woes. âMany fishermen donât send their children to the boats. There is no future for them in this business,â says another fishermanÂ Arjun Mandal, 62.
“How many fishermen have left the business till date is difficult to say. Reliable figures are hard to come by.Â However, around 10,000 marine fishermenÂ had been forced to leave their traditional occupation after our fishing area was declared asÂ a marine sanctuary in 1997. The financial situation is bleak for a majority of traditional marine fishermen,âÂ says Harekrushna Behera, aÂ fisherman from Batighar village.
Gahirmatha marine sanctuary is also known as the worldâs largest rookery of the sea turtles. Itâs a prime feeding area for sea turtles that nest all the way up to the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of the marine sanctuary.
âTrawlers and boatmen have been directed not to fish within 20 kilometres from the coastline in the sanctuary areas, coveringÂ a length of 1,435 square kms from Aagaranasi to Dhamara,â says Srirampada Arabinda Mishra, a forest range officer at the sanctuary.
In a bid to protect sea turtles, the government in 1997 declared Gahirmatha as a marine sanctuary. Each winter, the magnificent Olive Ridley sea turtles start their long journey to Gahirmatha to lay eggs. The turtles repeat the trek every year, always to return to the same beach in order to lay their eggs where they were born.
âWe have already arrested 460Â fishermen and seizedÂ 84 fishing vessels,Â on charges of illegally fishing in the marine sanctuary, sinceÂ November 1. All the arrested fishermen had been actively fishing in prohibited areas designated only for the rookery of the endangeredÂ Olive RidleyÂ sea turtles,â says Mishra.
âWe found that most of the accusedÂ fishermen go fishing in the nightÂ without turning their boat lightsÂ to avoid being caught. The forest department deployedÂ two interceptor boats to protect theÂ seaÂ turtles byÂ preventing fishing vessels from entering theÂ marine sanctuary,â he says.
Mishra adds, âThe government, under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Programme (ICZM), has been providing alternative livelihoods to traditional marine fishermen.â
A record number of 6,64,549Â turtles laid eggs between March 8 and 12 lastÂ year on the Nasi-1 and Nasi-2 islands of the marine sanctuary. They broke the nesting record of last 16 years due to strict imposition of the fishing ban, adds the forest officer.
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