Purse Siene Fishing

Context: The Supreme Court allowed purse seine fishing outside the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu.

Background of the Case

  • Currently, bans on purse seine fishing are implemented in the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands up to 12 nautical miles. States such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal have not imposed any such ban, while Maharashtra has issued some orders to regulate, but not ban purse seine fishing in its territorial waters.
  • The Supreme Court allowed purse seine fishing outside the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu.
  • he court has imposed stringent conditions to regulate the extent of purse seine fishing outside the 12-nautical-mile limit off Tamil Nadu.
  • For one, purse seine fishing would be allowed only twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, that too between 8 am and 6 pm the same day.
  • The Bench said only vessels registered under the marine fishing regulation law would be allowed to do purse seine fishing.
  • Tracking devices should be installed in these boats. The court has also prescribed a colour code for them. The fishing crew need to mandatorily carry identity cards.

Tamil Nadu’s objection

  • Tamil Nadu had vehemently objected to purse seine fishing, even beyond the 12 nautical mile border.
  • The mouth of purse seine net is one hectare and it would drag out anything and everything from the bowels of the sea.
  • The livelihood of small fishermen operating within the territorial waters would be put at risk,
  • The State had referred to a 1993 decision of the Supreme Court in State of Kerala versus Joseph Antony, which had upheld the ban on purse seine fishing beyond the territorial waters as it affected the livelihood of traditional fishermen.
  • One of the primary ecological arguments against purse seine nets is that they tend to draw only the targetted fish but also at-risk varieties, including turtles.
  • It is prohibited by Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands in their respective territorial waters of up to 12 nautical miles.
  • States like Gujarat, Andhra, Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal have not imposed any such ban on purse seine fishing. Maharashtra has issued certain orders for regulation of purse seine fishing in its territorial waters.

Opinion of the expert panel

  • Earlier Central Govt has constituted an expert panel on the issue
  • The expert panel had refused to accept that purse seine fishing caused “serious resource depletion”. It had recommended purse-seiners to fish territorial waters and the Indian Exclusive Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) subject to certain conditions.
  • there had not been any prohibition on purse seine fishermen operating beyond territorial waters for the past 30 years.
    17 lakh fishermen use purse seine nets. They were not “affluent”, but small fishermen who had worked their way up the pecking order in the fishing community. purse seine fishing was introduced in 1954 but the Technology has changed for the better and could be used to monitor fishermen and keep a check on whether they operate beyond the 12 nautical mile limit.

What is purse seine fishing?

  • Purse seines are used in the open ocean to target dense schools of single-species pelagic (midwater) fish like tuna and mackerel.
  • A vertical net ‘curtain’ is used to surround the school of fish, the bottom of which is then drawn together to enclose the fish, rather like tightening the cords of a drawstring purse.
  • The catch is harvested by either hauling the net aboard or bringing it alongside the vessel.
  • Purse seines can reach more than 6,500 ft (2,000 m) in length and 650 ft (200 m) in depth, varying in size according to the vessel, mesh size, and target species.
  • Finding a school of fish is one of the most difficult steps of this fishing technique and include:
    • Natural cues such as a congregation of seabirds, ruffling of surface water and/or fast-moving groups of dolphins.
    • Helicopters scanning the water for natural cues from the air to direct boats toward schooling fish.
    • Using radar fish finders to help identify the exact location and size of a school.

Advantages of Purse seine fishing

  • Purse-seine fishing in open water is generally considered to be an efficient form of fishing.
  • It has no contact with the seabed and can have low levels of bycatch (Accidental catch of unwanted species).
  • Purse seines can also be used to catch fish congregating around fish aggregating devices. This fishing method can result in higher levels of bycatch.

Concerns or issues related to Purse seine fishing

  • Purse seine fishing, deployed widely on India’s western coasts, uses a large vertical net to surround dense shoals of pelagic or midwater fish in the open ocean, and then draws in the edges like tightening the cords of a drawstring purse.
  • In some States, it is linked to concerns about the decreasing stock of small, pelagic shoaling fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies and trevally on the western coasts
  • Depending on the fishery, purse seines may catch vulnerable species; purse seining targeting tuna has been particularly associated with notable bycatch of mammals and sharks.
  • Purse seining can be associated with bycatch of non-target fish and other marine life and the accidental catch and discarding of juvenile commercial fish species
  • Fishermen using traditional methods have placed the blame squarely on the rise of purse seine fishing and fear a further fall in the availability of these small fish if the ban is lifted.
  • They have also demanded that, as the Centre has supported the lifting of the ban, it should publish the expert committee report it has based its stance on.
  • A major concern is the dwindling availability of oil sardines, a favourite of Kerala fish eaters. In 2021, Kerala recorded a catch of just 3,297 tonnes of sardine, a sharp decrease from the haul of 3.9 lakh tonnes in 2012.
  • While traditional fish workers blame purse seines as a reason for the decrease in sardines in Indian waters, those using big boats with purse seine fishing nets claim that it is simply a more scientific way to catch fish, particularly from the first layer of the sea.

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