Fisheries Research In Indian Ocean Region – Defining India’s Role

Fisheries Research In Indian Ocean Region – Defining India’s Role
Indian Ocean region is a complex region in terms of resources, trade, politics, and human races. The Indian Ocean, as a common resource, has supported trade within the region and along with it, the exchange of cultures, traditions and food habits. With 40% of the global trade passing through the Indian Ocean, the region is strategically very important. India, being centrally located in the region, has both unique advantages to be a development hub and has a daunting task of tackling a variety of security threats. In order to achieve the strategic goal, the country has to increase its presence in the region, not alone to guard the area but also to harness the resources for the wellbeing of its people. Fisheries resource is one of the most important resources that stands apart from others because it is linked to the livelihood of a significant proportion of the coastal population as well as to the food and nutritional security. It is therefore important to understand the fisheries potential offered by the seas surrounding India. Further, enhancing the capability to tap the resources can help keeping India’s leadership role in the region.
Marine Fisheries Resources of India and its management
The fishery resources in the region have supported the livelihood of millions of coastal population. The fisheries sector contributes to economic growth in the region engaging millions of people in activities like fish culturing, harvesting, processing and trading. Fisheries resource component of IOR under India’s control is significant. The marine resources of the country comprise of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.02 million sq. km, a continental shelf area of 0.53 million sq. km, a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles and a coastline of 8,118 km. The marine fishery potential in the Indian waters has been estimated at 4.41 MMT constituting more than 47% demersal, 48% pelagic and 5% oceanic groups. The total fish production during 2015-16 (provisional) is estimated at 10.79 million metric tonnes (MMT) with a contribution of 7.21 MMT from the inland sector and 3.58 MMT from the marine sector (DADF, Annual Report 2016 – 17). Mariculture has taken a new dimension in the last decade with the thrust on development of technologies pertaining to sea cage farming. Open sea farming of finfish and shellfish species such as Cobia, Pompano, Sea Bass, Groupers, Snappers and Lobsters in cages in different locations offer promising prospects of sea farming. In India, there are 757 cages installed for open sea cage farming which has a production of 2271 metric tonnes (DADF, Annual Report 2016-17). Fisheries resources are rich and diverse in Indian coast with 735 marine species landed in 2015, belonging to 327 genus, 154 families, 41 order, 9 class and 4 phyla (CMFRI Annual report 2015-16). While the nearshore fisheries resources can be exploited in a sustainable manner, there is a need felt for up-gradation of technology to harness the untapped deep sea and oceanic fishery resources. The conversion and up-gradation of existing fishing vessels promoted by Marine products export development authority (MPEDA) can contribute to the reduction of fishing pressure on the coastal waters and simultaneously help in the harvesting of the under-tapped and resources like tunas, billfishes, pelagic sharks and oceanic squids etc. Estimated that harvestable tuna resource alone could be up to Rs.3000crores.
Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has focused on fisheries resource management which include GIS based resource mapping, satellite imagery based prediction of fishing ground, stock assessment of commercially important species, fish distribution response to Oceanographic forcing and culture of marine plant and animals in the sea. CIFNET meets the demand for qualified and certified personal for manning the fishing vessels. The Fishery Survey of India (FSI) is the nodal agency for carrying out the survey, assessment and monitoring of marine fishery resources of the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). FSI in collaboration with Indian national centre for ocean information service (INCOIS) is also working on satellite telemetry studies of tuna. The oceanic tuna migrates from Sri Lankan coast till the Gulf of Oman and is an untapped resource and it’s harvest is now promoted by MPEDA.
Changing requirements in fish trade
Management of fisheries calls for stakeholder participation to implement regulations based on scientifically validated guidelines. The preservation of marine protected areas and reserves and implementation of the fishing ban need support from stakeholders. Sustainability of food source is also an important concern among the elite food consumers. Thus, the traceability and ecolabels have become part of food trade where the consumer can identify the products which are green, safe, and environmentally sustainable. The international standards on traceability and ecolabelling necessitate declaration from the seller that the stock of the traded fish has been harvested without affecting the sustainability. Further, to facilitate traceability, it is necessary to record the area in the sea from where the fish is caught to where it was preprocessed or processed to locations through which it was passed till it reaches the consumer. The seafood traceability along the whole chain of custody from vessel to the final consumer is considered to be an overarching market-based approach to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Estimates of the total value of illegal and unreported fishing losses worldwide are between $10 billion and $23.5 billion annually, representing between 11 and 26 MMT in volume. There is no credible estimate of the volume of losses due to IUU fishing in IOR. Illegal fishing by domestic mechanized trawlers in the inshore artisanal zone has been reported in all coastal states of mainland India. Illegal fish catches are very high in island territories, with most violators being foreign trawlers targeting sea cucumbers, shark fins and reef fish in the Andaman Islands, while shark fins are the usual target of poachers in Lakshadweep area. India has taken initiatives on multiple fronts to reduce the greenhouse gasses (GHGs). Efforts to improve the energy efficiency of about 1.5 lakhs of mechanized and motorized can add to this initiative. Design of boats, size and design of fishing gear and requirements of engine power for a particular type of fishing have to be assessed, and remedial measures should be taken to improve fuel efficiency. The GHGs, most significantly carbon dioxide can lead to ocean acidification. Acidification has led to bleaching and loss of coral reefs which serve as great habitats for fishes and other organisms
The challenges
Tapping the fisheries resources in a manner that is both ecologically and economically sustainable is a difficult task. It involves credible fishery resource mapping, establishing their maximum sustainable and economic yields, developing means to harvest them, and to provide infrastructural support. Though Fisheries survey of India has been doing the fishery resource mapping very meticulously, it has very little backing from research on capture methodology and fishery oceanography. Fisheries oceanographic studies help us understand the distribution, abundance, migrations, and recruitment of fish as a response to variations in the abiotic and biotic environment. Fishery oceanography, unlike other components of biological oceanography, needs different sets of research infrastructures usually unavailable with most institutions. Barring the vessels of FSI and Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), most of the vessels capable of fishing research and survey are below 20m length(LOA) restricting the endurance and space for oceanographic equipment. Exotic and invasive species, mostly introduced through shipping activities have been identified as a major threat to marine ecosystems and are to be monitored. The Indian Ocean has always been vulnerable to criminals and anti-national activities. The sea route has also been used for transport of contrabands.
The frequent straying of fishermen into neighbouring country waters has jeopardised the safety of the fishermen and has also raised national security concerns. This has happened at maritime borders of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Srilanka. The coast guard performs a variety of duties ranging from patrolling the territorial and contiguous waters; enforcing criminal laws in these waters; ensuring compliance with laws relating to shipping, fishing and pollution. The said tasks are enormous given the area under its supervision
The Road Ahead
In the backdrop of the above challenges, it is imperative to take key measures for greater appreciation of the Indian Ocean resources and for their sustainable and equitable exploitation. The present government has taken strong measures to have friendly and close political relationship with all neighbouring countries. This should be furthered through research and educational collaborations. India receives a handful of scholars from the sub-regions of IOR, to pursue higher education in fisheries. Enhancing capability to host more students from the region would help to have goodwill emissaries, who in the long run can be engaged in joint research programs. A better understanding of each other’s concerns on a common knowledge platform would aid long-term strategic partnership and sustainable and mutually benefitting use of the common fisheries resources.
Fishermen are exposed to various natural calamities and have the most challenging working conditions including the uncertainty of livelihood. Country need to invest on research on catch prediction and capture technology to better the income of this group. While poverty and poor education can make this vulnerable population be manipulated against the nation, if empowered, they can form an information network and a strong first line defense against any security threat through the sea route.

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