High juvenile catch depleting India's sardine fishery

Published on
March 16, 2018

Overfishing, climate change, and growing demand for fishmeal are combining to overwhelm India’s fisheries, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute Principal Scientist P U Zacharia said recently.

Fish populations in India’s coastal areas are decreasing, with the total catch declining from the 839,000 metric tons caught in 2012 to 520,000 metric tons in 2017, Zacharia said. Zacharia also pointed out that 390,000 metric tons of sardines were caught in 2012, but the population has cratered, with only 20,000 metric tons caught in 2017.  In addition, the cost of fishing has been climbing, making it unaffordable for traditional fishermen, Zacharia said, according to the Indian Express.

Climate change and overfishing were cited as the primary reasons for the decline. In the case of sardines, Zacharia said landings of juvenile fish have soared as shrimp farms demand more fishmeal for their operations.

In response to this phenomenon, a ban on catching juvenile fish was put in place in 2015, but boat owners have started catching them again, the newspaper reported.

Joseph Xavier Kalappurackal, the general secretary of the All-Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association, called the ban on juvenile fish unfair, citing a CMFRI study showing juvenile catch of up to 50 percent as acceptable.

“It is not possible to avoid juvenile fish. But the state fisheries department is seizing our boats even if the share of juvenile fish is 20 percent,” he said.

Kalappurackal blamed the larger, mechanized boats for the majority of the juvenile catch. 

In response, Zacharia called for the industry to self-regulate, and said the nature of fishing in India is changing, necessitating a shift to mechanized boats.

“To catch fish, we need bigger boats that cost close to INR 5 million to 10 million [USD 78,000 to USD 156,000, EUR 64,000 to 126,000],” Zacharia said. 

Reporting from Mumbai, India

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