A study on the issues of the inland fisheries and the policy framework governing the sector

Inspite of the immense potential of rainfed fisheries sector in India, fishing cooperatives have failed to function properly making it an unviable enterprise in the country

Issue of Commons and institutional arrangements:
Fisheries in rainfed areas have immense potential. Small reservoirs, tanks, water harvesting ponds created as a part of watershed development or MGNREGS and wetlands in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal etc. that dot the landscapes of rainfed areas have potential for fisheries development. An estimated 1.2 million ha of water spread area exists with fishery potential across the country. In all the state property rights over waterbodies is provided to fishing cooperatives, except in Jharkhand where smaller water bodies are given on lease to individuals and larger waterbodies are given only to cooperatives.

These cooperatives are expected to facilitate the leasing of water bodies, providing credit facilities and inputs like seed and fish feed to the members. However, the proper functioning of these cooperatives is debated. Many of them are affiliated to local party politics. They lack technical knowledge, infrastructure and financially resources to undertake fishery as a viable enterprise for them.

Varying water spread area, pronounced seasonality of filling, high dependence on rainfall, conflicting use with irrigation and common pool regime of property rights are some of the relevant distinct characteristics of these water bodies making fish production a complex endeavour. There is a large gap in the potential and actual yields in these rainfed water bodies and there is scope for enhancing the fish production by about 3 to 5 times considering the present low productivity levels.

Access to water body and their management for fishery development have been identified as major challenges in promotion of inland fishery. Although in many states in order to have secured access over water bodies by the fisher communities lease period has been mentioned as 5 years, in practice it varies widely. In many cases it was found to be for one to three years. Leasing amount also varies from state to state and it depends on the Fish Catch, Water Spread Area, Effective Water Spread areas etc. Lease value is dependent on the water spread areas and the assessment of water spread areas is not being carried out to fix the lease value.

Large water bodies such as reservoirs and others are mostly owned and managed by the Fishery departments in all the states and the smaller water bodies are usually being handed over to the Panchayats. Panchayat has given power to lease ponds and tanks at their disposal and the policies of leasing by the Panchayats do vary from state to state. There is no code of conduct for leasing of water bodies in many states.

All the water bodies owned by the Fishery Department are being leased out to the cooperatives formed and promoted by the department. In case of large water bodies the Governments do invest for infrastructure development and also for fish production enhancement but for the smaller water bodies especially leased out by the Panchayats hardly any attention is being given by the Fishery Department to promote aquaculture.

In almost all the states water bodies are leased out to the Fishermen community but the involvement of middlemen/ contractors can’t be ruled out. It is allegedly reported that these contractors take away the major share of profit in fishery where as the fishermen community involved only in fishing, weed clearing, netting activities and get wages.

In addition to the challenges in access to water bodies and fishing rights, the fisher communities face a variety of issues in promotion of inland fishing and aquaculture. The most common problem is the access to quality seed and technology for fish farming. Inadequate availability of credit is another issue, which makes the poor fisher communities not to invest in fish farming .

They don’t usually go for organized fish farming. Because of the poor investment capacity and risks in protection and marketing the fisher communities allow the entry of contractors to manage the pond/tanks and undertake fish farming. Although there is a huge demand of fish in domestic market the fisher communities get very low price for their harvest because of poor post-harvesting and processing facilities. They don’t have any control over procurement, storage, transportation and negotiation for sell.

Some of issues which need further debate are the coverage of insurance for inland fishery and welfare of fisher communities, treating inland fishery at par with agriculture. Still a large number of fisher communities are out of the safety nets and welfare measures of the government. Though a farmer in agriculture gets lot of concessions and subsidies the fish farmer does not usually get it.

Traditionally fishery has been associated with poor, illiterate and impoverished population, who belong to the weaker sections of the society. Fishery significantly contributes to the livelihoods of the marginalized sections of population; to the nutritional security of millions; to the foreign exchange earnings. Over 95% of the world's 27 million fishers live in developing countries, where fish play a vital role in human nutrition. In addition, many developing countries depend on fisheries as a source of employment, export income and government revenue.

Policies and legal framework governing Inland Fisheries :
Historically, In 1898 first step was taken to develop the sector as an industry, when Madras Presidency was advised to strengthen the Fishery sector so that the sector could tackle the famine. It took more than 50-years to focus on fisheries development. The national government does not have a special policy on Inland fishery like that of industries, agriculture, water etc. But there are different policies, laws and regulations formulated by the national and state governments for aquaculture development, maintaining environmental quality, allocating natural resources among the competing users and integration of aquaculture. A passing reference has been made in the Agricultural Policy regarding the fisheries development.

In the Constitution of India Entry 57 of list I specify Fishing and Fisheries beyond territorial waters as Union subject, whereas Entry 21 of List II speaks of Fisheries as a state subject. Considering both the entries together, it follows that control and regulation of fishing and fisheries within the territorial water is exclusively under the state subject, where as beyond the territorial water it is exclusively Union domain.

The leasing policy determines the allocation of water bodies such as reservoirs and smaller water bodies to different institution for fishing and maintenance. The traditional fisher communities get preference over others to get lease over different kinds of water bodies. Physical proximity, capacity to invest, technical knowledge etc are also being considered as important factors in deciding the lease of water bodies to different individuals and institutions. The leasing policy specifies a) Period of leasing b) Leasing price c) Water spread area and effective water spread area d) Preferences e) Management of the water body .

Smaller water bodies contribute to a greater extent towards the production of fishery in India . However, there are little inputs from Government side in this field. States are also showing less interest for fishery development as in most of the states smaller water bodies are under the direct control by the Panchayats as per the 73rd Amendments. Leasing of water bodies are done by the Panchayats at different levels.

Most of the reservoirs are under the management of water resources/Irrigation department and the leasing rights for fishing have been assigned in most of the cases to the Fisheries Department. The Fisheries Department then leases it to fishery cooperatives, state fishery federation and others for fishing. All the reservoirs are managed for fishing under licensing systems.

Emerging issue in Inland fishery sector:
Inland fishery is perceived as a low importance area in planning process even the budget allocation is also kept mostly for welfare activities. Lack of effort for extension of appropriate and new technologies is imparted at grass root level. The lacks of support to strengthen and create institutional arrangements are one of the concerns in fishery sector. The other institutional, policy and lack of value chain development related issues can be summerised as,

    • Inland fishery not treated at par with Agriculture in the context of taxes, electricity tariff etc. there is absence of inland fishery polciy at national level
    • Non-coverage of fish farming under insurance
    • No clear policy for relief to fisher farmers for natural calamity (some states like Madhya Pradesh have provided drought relief to fisher communities)
    • Inadequate database available on the status of production, consumption and marketing of fish in inland sector
    • Small scale, spatially diffuse inland fishery activities not getting organized and not reflected in the national statistics and accounting
    • Inadequate initiatives for infrastructure development for product diversification and market development
    • Lack of adequate incentives for promotion of export oriented fishery enterprises
    • Inadequate support of different kinds to the fishery cooperatives
    • Less number of facilitating organisations to promote inland fishery development
    • Only a fraction of water area such as rivers, canals, jhills and tanks has been untilised
    • Poor extension services to the fisher communities for promotion of fish seed and feed production, fish farming and fish based enterprises
    • No standards for quality of fish seed, feed and fish varieties and hence no certification initiatives on fish and fish product
    • Fishery though falls under the Agriculture less number of provisions are made for the sub sector. Such as energy used for the purpose is not subsidized in diesel and electricity
    • Insurance companies are not considering the pisciculture under their purview
    • Less or no provision in case of drought affect as the same is considered under agriculture in the farm sector
    • Multiple ownership of the existing water bodies in many cases make the same underutilized or useless. Auction make it a problem for the poorer section to avail the water bodies on lease
    • Indulgence of middlemen in the process of leasing and taking the water bodies on lease

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