Each year on the 21st of November World Fisheries Day is celebrated to highlight the importance of the human lives involved in this sector and the water bodies that sustain aquatic lives. This day explores solutions to the increasingly inter-connected worldwide problems to work out a sustainable model. This day also sets future goals and milestones, bringing together not just the fisheries department but many other departments which are correlated with fisheries, under one roof. The day serves as an important reminder of the need to change the way we manage the fisheries sector in order to maintain stocks and healthy aquatic ecosystems.
Fish diversity, apart from being a crucial source of food and livelihood, determines the health of water bodies. Fisheries occupies a very important place in the socio-economic development of the country. This realm has been recognised as a powerful income and employment source of cheap and nutritious food, besides being a source of livelihood for a large section of economically backward population of UT of J&K. One in 10 people on the planet rely on fisheries and aquaculture to support their livelihood. In J&K, 93,000 people are associated with the fisheries sector. The fisheries sector in J&K is considered as an emerging sector as the domain has an immense potential in to become a world class industry, with a water area as huge as 50,000 hectares. The production from this vast water area is just 20,000 tonnes per year while the requirement is 1.5 lakh tonnes, which can be easily achieved, provided that ample scientific techniques in culture and capture are used.
Even though the total fish production in J&K has increased a bit, as per a research conducted by a research scholar, Rather Tajamul, the fish production in Kashmir has decreased over the years. The percentage share in total fish production from Kashmir declined from 84.18% in 2000 to 73.21% in 2018, which is a 10.97% decrease in fish production. The decreasing pace of growth of fisheries sector seems to be consistent with the decline in the fish production. The deterioration of the fisheries sector is due to less government attention than it calls for, in terms of investment and creating of infrastructure.
The indigenous fish species of Kashmir are at high risk. Out of 13 species, 8 are extinct while remaining are waning. The code of conduct formulated for fisheries is not even being followed by licence holders who have been given permission for fishing. People are using chemicals like bleaching powder and dynamite to kill fish, although it is an offence under J&K Fisheries Act 1960. The department of fisheries is not able to put a check on all these offences due to lack of manpower. J&K department of fisheries is left with just a handful of employees (around 1,800 for all the districts and projects in J&K), out of which many are on the verge of retiring in a couple of years. Also, the punishments under J&K Fisheries Act 1960 are lenient. As per this act, if a person is found fishing in a prohibited area, he/she will be fined Rs 100 or undergo a jail term for 2 months or both and if a person is found using dynamites to kill fish, he/she will be fined Rs 50 or imprisoned for a month or both. This act was formulated way back in 1960 and the punishments (as well as their implementation) are so less that offences could be committed repeatedly.
In June 2019, K Skandan, the then advisor to the Governor, speaking at a two-day conference on Fisheries and climate change in SKUAST K, mentioned that a massive fisheries and aquaculture programme has been undertaken by government to boost the fisheries industry in J&K. However, till date we have not seen an iota of development coming out of that massive programme. The need of the hour is to overhaul the fisheries sector completely by recruiting technical staff, using scientific techniques, and coordinating with other concerned departments and academic institutions.
Sher e Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology has established a separate faculty for fisheries which produces more than 50 fisheries graduates and post graduates every year who are technically sound and trained with scientific aids. The government must take steps and utilise the services of these experts for the upliftment of fisheries sector in J&K. There is an urgent need to sharpen the awareness of the people and to encourage them towards aquaculture, while putting a stop to the pollution of water bodies. A comprehensive plan for giving boost to the fisheries sector is needed in J&K. Fishing in the breeding season should be banned. New legislation which ensures stringent punishment to people for mass killing of fish is needed. The officers of the department should frequently visit villages located near rivers, nallahs and streams to create awareness among the local people about the misuse of bleaching powder. The social activists from environmental NGOs also have a great role to play in putting an end to the mass slaughter of fish. Until offical measures are implemented in letter and spirit, the restoration, let alone growth, of fisheries sector in J&K will remain an unfulfilled dream.
—The writer has a bachelor’s in Fisheries Science from SKUAST-K and master’s in Fisheries scinece from College of Fisheries Mangalore, Karnataka. [email protected]