India is one of the world’s largest exporters of seafood. With global declines in fish populations due to overfishing, it is critical that sustainable fishing practices are adopted immediately. Fish populations have decreased by 50% in the last 40 years; 61% of fish stocks are fully fished and a further 29% are overfished. Additionally, fishing bycatch kills large numbers of threatened species, such as marine turtles, sharks and marine mammals. Less than 4% of the ocean is currently protected from such impacts, and a lesser proportion is effectively managed.
Overfishing is multi-layered issue to address because seafood is an important source of nutrition globally, which means that demand for consumption has to be met, while also ensuring sustainability of fish stocks. WWF-India works with several stakeholders to address seafood consumption and sourcing patterns.
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India has 42 major fishing harbours across it’s coastline. The Living Planet Report 2018 identifies the oceans around the Indian coast as experiencing heavy fishing intensity.
One of the solutions proposed globally, has been to understand fishery operations and adjust them to be more sustainability oriented. This includes enforcing fishing bans during peak breeding seasons, regulating bycatch and monitoring the use and disposal of marine gear.
WWF-India is working to incorporate sustainable fisheries management practices in India by facilitating the certification of fisheries operating in Indian waters. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a non-profit organization that has developed an eco labeling and fishery certification program to recognize and reward sustainable fishing practices. An MSC certificate signifies that seafood from a certified fishery has been sourced in an ecologically sound and sustainable way. Certification also lends the fishery access to increased market opportunities, may benefit coastal communities through positive marketing and increases awareness regarding sustainability issues among India’s fisheries policymakers.
While a majority of the fisheries, operating in India, are a long way from being certified due to improvements needed in management systems and the cost of certification, WWF-India achieved its first major breakthrough in marine conservation when the Ashtamudi Short Necked Clam fishery was MSC certified in 2014. We are currently working on certification of the Oil Sardine Fishery in Kerala, the Blue Swimmer Crab fishery in Mandapam, Tamil Nadu, and the pole-and-line Skipjack Tuna Fishery in Lakshadweep.
India is one of the largest exporters of shrimp, making shrimp farming a source of livelihood for millions in India. WWF-India is working towards successfully certifying aquaculture fisheries in India, under the standards set by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). Two shrimp farms in Nellore were the first ASC-certified farms in India. Certifying the farms has helped create awareness among policymakers and key stakeholders about the value of sustainable aquaculture and has helped promote sustainable aquaculture production in Shrimps.
At a global level, several countries in the European Union and the US have become part of Fish Forward, a campaign that commits to importing only sustainably sourced food. With importers adopting a pro-sustainability approach, the onus is now on exporters, (India being a significant one) to meet the demand for sustainably sourced seafood.
WWF-India is working with exporters and fisheries in India to help them adapt sustainable fishing practices such as regulated fishing seasons and installing bycatch regulatory devices.
One of the major challenges that we face is economic feasibility. Certification and ecolabelling processes can often be expensive and a difficult investment for coastal communities or exporters to make. However, building a domestic capacity for auditing, certification and labeling can significantly help reduce costs. WWF-India is working to this end, with a consortium of fishery stakeholders called the Sustainable Seafood Network to train and develop certification infrastructure in the country.
India is the 4th largest producer of marine wild capture fisheries, with an estimate of 3.62 million metric tons, and the 2nd largest producer of aquaculture fisheries, estimated at 7.1 thousand metric tons annually (SOFIA 2020).
Currently over 30 percent of marine wild caught fisheries globally are overfished and 58 percent are fully fished, leaving little room for expansion of wild catch. In the early 1990s, the FAO initiated a discussion on subsidies as a major cause of overcapacity in the marine wild capture fisheries sector, and estimated the subsidies to be worth US$54 billion per annum globally. A recent re-evaluation estimates global marine fisheries subsidies to be worth approximately US$32 billion annually, and categorizes them as having harmful, beneficial or ambiguous effects on fisheries. Despite fisheries subsidies being on the global agenda for over 20 years, with formal discussions in the WTO since the early 2000s, countries are still expanding their fisheries, and providing harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and illegal unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
Fisheries subsidies play an important role in the fisheries sector in India. The total estimated amount of fisheries subsidies given to Indian fishing fleets is estimated at approximately US$277 million annually (Sumaila et al. 2019). Both the Central and State Governments provide subsidies to the fishing industry. The Government of India (GOI) provides both direct and indirect fisheries subsidies to the industry (Aswathy and Salim, 2012). Direct subsidies include those for the purchase of vessels, gear, engines, fuel, modernization (including boats, gear, engines, and equipment such as fish finders), and assistance in aquaculture activities. Indirect subsidies include financial assistance through welfare schemes, construction of ports, fishing harbors and fish landing centers, development of post-harvest and market infrastructure, tax exemptions, investments in fisheries corporations and enterprises, grants for disaster and safety preparedness and exports. Most of the fisheries subsidies provided by India are capacity enhancing.
Currently fisheries management is undergoing reform in India, in an attempt to control IUU fishing. Each of the nine Indian coastal states is required to formulate new fisheries management plans (FMPs). While Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu already have FMPs in place, the Gujarat FMP is currently still being formulated. FMP reforms are of significance as they have the potential to address IUU fishing, fisheries sustainability and fisheries subsidies at the State level.
Although protecting the rights of subsistence and artisanal fishers may be justified, fisheries subsidy reforms are necessary. For example, approximately 83% of existing fisheries subsidies are given out to mechanized fisheries in India (The Economist, 2017). Many of these mechanized fishery beneficiaries include bottom trawlers, which are extremely destructive to marine ecosystems, and are already potentially in decline. Thus subsides to increase capacity could perpetuate a declining industry, along with the social and economic problems associated with the declining industry. Fisheries subsidies reforms address only harmful fisheries subsidies, and not subsidies that would potentially be beneficial to reforming the industry and improving its management practices.
WWF-India is working to ensure that key government officials and institutions are aware of the benefits of fisheries subsidies reforms and thus have a better basis for making decisions in support of a global agreement on the same, in line with SDG 14.6.