Does the fisheries sector need a big reform? In a word, yes.
Fisheries sector in India grows at more than six per cent per annum. India is third largest fish producing nation in the world and second largest in aquaculture production. Its contribution to agricultural GDP is significant. It has huge potential for expansion.
However, like other sub-sectors of agriculture, the socio-economic conditions of large scale fishermen or fish farmers are poor. They are facing the daunting challenges of ecological sustainability. There is a large scale decline in stock of some fish species. Market linkage for the fish farmers is also poor in the country.
The sector is mistakenly considered male dominated, ignoring the contribution of female workers. Whereas women’s contribution in the fish supply chain is fairly substantial, but largely invisible.
Apart from this, there is virtually no insurance coverage for this poor fish farmers or fishermen. A recent study by CMFRI reveals insurance facility in fisheries sector, as compared to other agriculture sub-sectors, is underutilized in the country. Insurance coverage of income risks due to decline in fish stocks, price risks due to price fluctuation, damage of sea cages, loss of fish crops and damage to farm structure are not reported.
The state of Kerala which has a big stake in fisheries sector had recently demanded the Centre to create a separate ministry for fisheries, include fisheries in the concurrent list and prescribe minimum standard for fishing vessels. It also urged for a decentralized management of fisheries, a nation-wide ban on juvenile fishing and extension of the State’s territorial jurisdiction from 12 to 36 nautical miles.
Though the central government has initiated policy reforms by notifying the National Policy on Marine Fisheries 2017 and recommended a major push for private investments in deep-sea fishing, it has elicited criticism from some quarters, especially from fishermen communities, for allowing back door entry for foreign players.
However, the policy seeks to encourage entrepreneurship development, private investment and public private partnership in the marine fisheries sector.
Keeping the above factors in mind, it is required to have a major policy overhaul in the fisheries sector. The Centre in consultation with other states needs to initiate big reform measures for a long term and sustainable growth of fisheries sector, including marine and inland fisheries. Like other sectors, women participation in fish supply chain could be greatly enhanced with suitable assistance.