A Report by NPSSFWI National Council Member Sebastian Rodrigues
The logic of economic growth leading to degeneration of ecology and impoverishment of fishing communities on the banks of Zuari river has raised the voice of protest and unleashed struggle of fishing communities. The epicenter of current struggle is the mouth of Zuari river specially involving northern as well as southern banks of the river that is 5.5 kms wide at the mouth that empties in Arabian Sea.
The growth logic has lured sizable amount of fishers to get into legally, ecologically and ethically objectionable methods of fishing in Zuari river. Two of these methods has triggered conflicts. They are trawling and purse seine fishing methods. Both these fishing methods are banned in rivers of Goa and within 5 kilometers from the shoreline but have enough promise of prosperity for those few fishers who engage in them even though peril for the ecology and other fishers in Zuari. Trawling has been objected in Goa by Small Scale fishing communities since 1970s and had met with an success to some extend with the enactment of legislation – Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1980 and its rules in 1981.
Its enforcement remained pathetic due to lack of political will as trawlers funded various politicians openly as well as clandestinely. Zuari river fisheries entered turbulent phase in 2014 when large number of trawlers entered river and began carrying on illegal fishing. Fishers on northern banks objected to their intrusion and petitioned Goa Fisheries Department but did not find positive response with consistency.
Few times attempts were made by Fisheries Minister Palyenkar in 2017 to stop trawling in Zuari but after a month would resume again after fresh political settings. Same miserable practice of enforcement continued in case of purse seine fishing too. However regular complaints were filed by fishers under the banner of Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State Unit and shared online on its website www.bharatmukti.blogspot.in
In 2019 National Convenor of “National Platform for Small Scale Fish Worker (Inland) (NPSSFW(I)” Pradeep Chaterjee established contacts with fishers struggle in Goa with a two personal visits to meet fishing communities and know their problems. Goa Fishers were invited to join NPSSFW(I). In the meanwhile Food And Agriculture (FAO) office in Rome was contacted in April 2019 and information on SSF Guidelines enforcement status in India was sought. FAO informed about India being a signatory to SSF Guidelines and Government of India has included implementation of SSF Guidelines in India via Article 54 of the National Policy on Marine Fisheries 2017. FAO also shared information about existence of International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). On contacting ICSF its leadership Sebastian Mathew and John Kurien extended invitation to participate in two of their recent conference in Chennai and Kolkata. NPSSFW(I) invited Goa delegates to its National Convention in Delhi in July 2019. Five delegates including three directly engaged in fishing from Goa participated in the conference that provided insights and exposure to the participants.
In July 2019 Government of Goa amended fishing laws dealing with illegal fishing allowing confiscation of fishing boats as well as fishing license of the canoes and vessels booked for illegal fishing during the suspension period.
2019 also witnessed process of setting up union of fishers in Goa under the guidance of NPSSFW(I) and facilitation from Dialogue, Empathic Engagement and Peacebuilding (DEEP) Network (India). Accordingly the Union was formed and named “All Goa Small Scale Responsible Fisheries Union”. Committee has been formed and process of registration initiated.
In the meanwhile Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa Unit has continued to speak out on fishing issues and has filed several complaints with Government authorities on illegal fishing besides mobile phone sms and Whatsapp campaigns.
In August 2019 when trawling and purse seine boats resumed their illegal fishing operation in Zuari river, complaints were filed and messages sent to members of Public as well as the new Fisheries Minister Philip Neri Rodrigues. Minister phoned and called the fishers to meet him. A day prior to the meeting Minister directed raid on illegal fishing in Zuari and booked trawler belonging to the leader of the Trawler owners Simon Pereira. Meeting took place on August 26, 2019 and another follow up meeting on September 23, 2019. Fisheries Minister listened to the fishers and got opinion of MLA Churchill Alemao who owns trawlers. After all the consultation Fisheries Minister joined the October 11, 2019 public meeting at Bambolim on illegal fishing along with other local MLAs such as Jennifer Monsorrate who is representing Taleigao and current Revenue Minister of Goa, Fransisco Silveira, MLA, St. Andre Constituency, and Antonio Fernandes, MLA of Santa Cruz Constituency. All the MLAs spoke against illegal fishing in Zuari River and vowed to increase surveillance by hiring private boats for this purpose.
After this meeting Zuari River and purse seine boats reduced to one boat. Zuari River at Odxel fishing coast and state authorities has not taken any steps to consistently maintain vigilance system in Zuari River in spite of the public promise.
One likely cause is that Control room at Fisheries department is infiltrated by lobbies engaged in illegal fishing. Fishers calling up and informing has been called back within five minutes by the owners of the fishing boats carrying on illegal fishing is Zuari River and threatened. Also often complaints lodged are not processed and patrol boats are not dispatched to Zuari River. The demand of fishers to station one patrol boat permanently in Zuari River due to high incidents of illegal fishing by trawlers and purse seine boats is also not taken seriously by Goa Government and neglected. Even staff of the fisheries department if dispatched to the coastal villages of Odxel, Nauxim, Cacra, Bambolim and Siridao with camera would be able to record the identity of the boats engaging in illegal fishing activities.
There are some definite good signs towards tackling illegal fishing activities. Trawlers have stopped while purse seine boats are trying to re-start the same. One of the good signs is that Fisheries Minister has taken the issue seriously and even replied sms saying he has directed Fisheries department to carry on patrolling till very late in the night. Second good sign is that Minister has taken seriously issue of abuse of Coastal Police station at Harbour that has forwarded fictitious cases against fishers Cosme Pires and Sanjay Pereira to the Judicial Magistrate First Class in Vasco. Minister has taken this issue up after being petitioned by Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State to get these fictitious cases withdrawn.
When the fishers were awaiting arrival of Fisheries Minister Philip Neri Rodrigues to his office at Secretariat in Porvorim, earlier Fisheries Minister Jose Philip D’Souza came over and started shouting that Simon’s trawler has been booked and he has come to meet Fisheries Minister in order to release the detained trawler. Later director of Fisheries confirmed that the department of fisheries has detained trawler fishing illegally in Zuari River. Jose Philip D’Souza also shouted that hence forth it is going to be very difficult to carry on illegal fishing in Zuari as online campaign launched by Bharat Mukti Morcha has trigged police to break nexus with those indulging in illegal fishing in Zuari River.
Zuari River fishers are also facing prospects of abrupt end to their fishing activities due to proposed marina at Nauxim, the fishing village on the northern banks of Zuari River. Bharat Mukti Morcha, Goa State Unit jointly with NPSSFW(I) has filed detailed objections to holding of Public Hearing on November 02, 2019 and has called for scrapping of the Marina project at Nauxim. Large number of individuals, Fishing Community Organization and Civil Society organizations together with Members of Panchayats, MLA, Academicians, Lawyers, Activists etc has formed an alliance named “Goenkars against Marina” and spearheading this movement. In the face of massive resistance installation of Marina has been suspended.