Save the Sea to Save our Future…
Fish is a bountiful source of food and nutrition. It will help us to achieve the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals of attaining food security challenge by the year 2050.
With nearly 3,288 marine fishing villages and 4 million fisher population of which 61% lie in BPL (Below Poverty Line) category, fisheries are an important means of livelihood in India.
More than 10% of the world human population meets food security through fish income.
The fishing community traditionally fished from the wild sea for subsistence. With fishing technology and the Pink revolution, a portentous boom in the fish economy was witnessed. Soon fishermen along coastal pockets of eastern and western India complained about the drastic decline in fish in the past five years.
The fisher-folks lying under the most backward class derive their major economy from marine fish resources. Several interactions with older fishermen revealed many species were no more found in their fish catch in the local sea in the past two decades. Fishermen report a shift in their usual fishing zones over time, making their catch very unpredictable.
1. Extraction beyond ocean capacity
A definite relation exists between industrial fish harvesting and over-extraction. Unsustainable fishing practices have drastically declined fish resources.
Trawling is an industrial fishing technique which is highly unsustainable. In bottom trawling, a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor using one or more boats. The heavy gears and chains literally scrap the ocean bed, destroying coral reefs and marine life habitats. Imagine the massive trawl equivalent to a bulldozer destroying everything in its way.
Even deep-sea trawling can cause permanent deep-water damage, killing young ones on their way to deeper grounds. Trawler extracts fishes from few hundred meters to four km in depth, destroying pristine oceanic habitats.
Ocean supports millions of weaker socio-economic sections in India such as fisherwomen. Women buy and sell small forage fishes like Sardine and Anchovies that are purchased from small-boats. They sun-dry the fishes that serve as an excellent protein source for their family during lean seasons. Once the firm backbone of the fishing sector, fisherwomen are now facing stiff competition from big trawler boats that are exporting high-quality fishes through middlemen.
2. Climatic change, changing ocean and fish movement
In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Unexpected environmental changes are forcing high fluctuations in water currents, frequent storms and wind movement. This is forcing fish to change their swimming zones.
This holds true for the open sea fish like Sardine, Anchovies and Mackerel. These species are sensitively driven by ocean temperature and food sources. Hence, they are showing greater migration towards cooler waters due to global warming.
3. Plastic-plastic everywhere and where the fish would live
It is predicted that by 2050, plastic will outnumber fish in the oceans.
We must be aware of the famous “Great Pacific Patch Island“—a 1.6 million square kilometre mass of marine debris particles in the North Pacific Ocean circulating with ocean and wind movements. We have four more “Garbage Patch Islands” in the North and South of Atlantic, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean…with many more to discover.
Single-use plastic, ghost nets and ropes along the harbour and coast of India is a common sight. Under the impact of water movement and sunlight, plastic easily fragments into smaller pieces called micro-plastics that are five millimetres across or even smaller to nano size. Micro-plastics are pervasive and persistent in nature. Fishes like Anchovies mistakenly eat micro-plastics attracted by their smell. Tiny pieces appear to smell similar to their natural prey.
Micro-plastics make their way into our food chain through fish.
Plastic is a grave threat to Ocean life:
Divert Pressure and Diversify Livelihood
Unmonitored wild fish harvesting leads to over-fishing. Indian fisheries are highly diversified in nature, i.e., different varieties of catches in a single day. This makes their monitoring and surveillance a tedious task.
The pressure, however, can be diverted through inland fish farms and aquaculture. Here, both freshwater and marine organisms can be raised in ponds or tanks. Hatcheries and nurseries producing a variety of juvenile organisms are reared big enough to be sold off.
With the help of Development Authorities, existing ponds having perennial water sources can be cleaned and beautified for low-cost aquaculture. This will reduce additional pressure on marine life.
Empowering fishermen with technology to save ocean life
Increased disturbances in the local sea could force several schools of fish to find better habitats. Fishermen can be empowered with needful technologies such as GPS and Walky-talky. This will help them to feed locations of their fishing zones in this GPS. This information will be helpful for marine scientists to analyze causes behind the shift in their traditional fishing zones over the years.
Based on this data, resource assessment and availability of fish can be done. Accordingly, instead of a blanket fishing ban, different fishing zones can be divided to form Regional Restricted Fishing Zone, Traditional Zones and Economic Zones.
These interventions will arrest the extinction of endangered species, limit their decline and sustain fishers livelihood.
Foster responsibility for Ocean
Young fishermen can be mobilized as agents of change. We should build their understanding through marine conservation story on how discarded nets result in sea pollution, and relating how plastic pollution affect the wild resources sustainability in the sea.
Mobilizing words into Actions through clean-up drives could nurture environmental consciousness.
In 2018, a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, a critically endangered species, washed up dead on Fort Morgan Beach, USA. It was found with a beach chair tangled around its neck. It is a reminder to all of us on how abandoned plastic material left on beaches could cause mortality of innocent marine creatures.