Marine debris and plastic pollution | WWF India

Pollution in its various forms has always been a matter of concern for the environment. With sewage lines and industrial waste choking both marine animals and habitats, marine debris and plastic pollution in the ocean has become a pressing challenge. Plastics form the bulk of solid marine debris, entangling and smothering marine animals and habitats. Another significant pollutant is the immense quantity of agricultural run-off, in the form of fertilizers, finding their way into coastal waters. An overuse of fertilizer results in eutrophication, or the excessive richness of nutrients in water bodies. A bloom of plant and algal life follows, depleting oxygen in the water column and asphyxiating aquatic animals.

An issue that has commanded growing attention is ghost gear mitigation and prevention. These are fishing gear in the form of nets and lines that are either lost or abandoned by fishermen which continue to trap fish for years after. WWF India is working to address the issue of ‘ghost fishing’ in India’s marine and coastal waters and spread awareness on the impacts of plastic on the marine and coastal environment.

Ghost Gear

One of the major components of marine litter is ghost gear also referred to as Abandoned, Lost or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG). Fishing gear such as nets, hooks, lines, etc, discarded or lost at sea are referred to as ghost gear. Left in the sea, these gear continue to fish for several years, entangling several marine species and adding to already mounting pressures on marine populations. Additionally, movement of large masses of nets or other tangled gear across the ocean floor can disrupt the benthic ecosystem.

The distribution and impact of ghost gear in marine ecosystems is not fully understood and WWF-India is working to address this through a baseline study that will look at understanding the current level of ALDFG removal, the frequency of such nets, and practices involving discarding redundant nets.  This will help us establish a system of monitoring the presence of these nets, their characteristics such as mesh size, material etc., the locations in which ALDFG are found, the type of fauna caught in them, and possibly the origin of these nets.  Post our initial scoping and spatial mapping studies we can then look at ways to incentivize coastal communities to retrieve and recycle nets. 

Success stories

Ashtamudi Clam Fishery

Ashtamudi’s Clam Fishery started commercial operations 30 years ago, to meet the growing demand for short-necked clams (Paphia malabarica). The growth of the commercial fishery was fuelled by demand from export markets in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s with the catch reaching a peak of 10,000 tonnes a year by 1991. The fishery however saw a 50% decline in produce in 1993 due to overfishing.

Over the years, with declining produce, fish workers realized the need to make changes in their operations to make the fishery more sustainable. Facilitated by WWF-India, Ashtamudi’s Clam Fishery became India’s first MSC-certified sustainable fishery having achieved certification in 2014. A closed season and mesh size restrictions for nets were introduced, along with a minimum export size and a prohibition on mechanical clam fishing methods. These measures showed immediate effects, and the clam fishery has sustained landings of around 10,000 tonnes a year for the past decade. Fish workers paddle dug-out canoes from nearby villages to the shellfish beds. Divers dislodge the clams from the seabed with their hands and feet or with a hand-dredge. On a good day, a fisherman can gather as much as 200kg over a period of 4 to 5 hours.

Up to 1,000 fishers in the area rely on the clam resource and another 4,000 people are involved in cleaning, processing and trading the clams. Operators are licensed by the Kerala State Government and Village Clam Fishery Council, which was set up in preparation for MSC assessment.

The Ashtamudi clam fishery is a pioneer for fisheries certification in India and in the developing world. MSC certification has been useful in opening access to new markets for the fishery. This has awakened the interest of national level policy makers such as the national body responsible for promoting fish exports, the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) who are interested in exploring opportunities for MSC certification of fisheries in India, recognising that “sustainability is now a key thing for fisheries exports and there is a need to take action”.

(Source: Marine Stewardship Council: Case Study on Ashtamudi short-necked clam fishery, India)

Skip Jack Tuna Fisheries in Lakshadweep islands 

The Union Territory of Lakshadweep, an island chain, significantly depends on its fish diversity for income and as a food source. There has been a steady growth of fish landings from 500 tonnes in the 1950s to 12,000 tonnes in recent years. The tuna fishery of Lakshadweep uses “pole-and-line” fishing with live bait, a technique not seen anywhere else in India. More than 50% of the total fish landings in Lakshadweep are skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), with most of the rest made up of Yellowfin (Thunnus albacares), smaller quantities of Kawakawa (Euthynnus affinis) and other small tuna species.

In a bid to direct future investment down a sustainable pathway, WWF-India has been engaging with government and NGO stakeholders in Lakshadweep since 2013 to explore how the sustainability of the pole-and-line fishery can be ensured. Building on our experience in working with stakeholders to put in place Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for fisheries in Kerala we are working with the island community, to obtain an MSC certificate for the Lakshadweep Skipjack Tuna fishery. The fishery has completed the pre-assessment stage of certification and is working to develop a fishery improvement plan.

WWF-India has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) to collaborate efforts in the preparation of a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) which will help the fishery on its way to being MSC certified. The IPNLF is an organization that works to develop, support and promote socially and environmentally responsible pole-and-line and handline tuna fisheries around the world. The agreement, effective for a period of three years, will help develop and improve the fishery catch, data collection, compilation and reporting systems to meet the growing demands on produce, regulatory requirements and systems for data collection and research. WWF India and IPNLF will also work together to improve the monitoring and management of the fishery by educating fishermen and improving routine collection of live bait catch data.  

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