In these unprecedented and uncertain times, it is hard to know what sectors of economic activity should be opened and encouraged as essential and which areas to exercise caution in. Perhaps the best approach is to listen to those with expertise in their respective areas of operations and knowledge. The Pakistan Game Fish Association is a nonprofit entity which for more than 20 years has concerned itself with and worked in depth on freshwater and marine ecosystems across Pakistan with a focus on sustainable utilization, conservation and rural welfare. By taking all stakeholders into account this organization has made great strides in protecting and developing these three areas. See website for further details on PGFA and its accomplishments – www.pgfa.org
As an entity concerned with the welfare of the Pakistan’s coast and sea we have noticed in dismay as yet another move to damage our marine ecosystem is taking place vis a vis the summary to the Chief Minister Sind regarding the opening of shrimp and fish harvesting in the peak breeding season of this important species and resource during June & July. Certain influential sectors often try to get illegal fishing time allotted almost every year via the standard techniques of corruption and coercion. This time it seems like the tremendous corona virus crisis is being used to get a very damaging type of illegal commercial fishing permission passed.
Essential activities like subsistence level fishing are integral to the survival of rural communities and must be encouraged to carry on. Small vessel operating fishing communities who comprise mainly of immediate families on a boat fishing to survive must not be hindered from their life sustaining activities. Such communities generally have little impact on fishing stocks and ecosystems. Traditionally, fisherfolks are also discouraged from going out to sea at all, which also keeps them safe as the sea is very rough during these monsoon months. Plus, they utilize this time repairing their nets, boats, etc.
However large scale commercial trawlers are very different. Social distancing on commercial vessels with crews of 20 to 30 working in extremely close proximity as this activity necessitates is impossible. Allowing this activity, that too in the fish breeding season will result in uncontrollable spreading of the virus in poor urban and rural fishing communities where it will be utterly impossible to manage.
The PGFA specializes in understanding the issues surrounding and on rectifying the damage being done to Pakistan’s rivers, lakes and sea. If the fish breeding season is tampered with and large scale commercial fishing allowed it will play havoc with our already massively depleted sea and other water bodies. It is now a widely accepted fact that the world’s fish stocks are depleted to dangerous levels and Pakistan is no exception to this. Unbridled commercial fishing has left our sea a shadow of its former state. At the present rate scientists have confirmed that by 2050 commercial fishing will have destroyed 90% of the worlds fish stocks and for Pakistan we can expect our fisheries to be unviable much sooner. In a country with the top 5 populations on earth to willingly destroy a renewable resource such as marine shrimp and fish during breeding season in an illegal manner to benefit only a tiny affluent sector of the country’s population should be considered criminal. We do not realize that shrimp fry (tiny shrimp) that reaches the Estuarine system of the Indus Delta provides the backbone for breeding and nurturing many other fish and shellfish species. Killing the shrimp in breeding season is documented to damage the ecosystem all along its fragile chain. As always, it will be the subsistence level fishing communities from the edge of Hub river right up to Keti bandar and beyond who depend on shallow estuarine waters for their livelihood who will suffer the most. Pakistan’s territorial waters that once abounded in whales, dolphins, sharks and tuna are now a barren seascape where every morsel is being snatched up by commercial interests. Yet it is the richness of marine life in these waters that would be a tremendous attraction for worldwide tourists in years to come. Pakistanis Arabian Sea is unique in its biodiversity and a completely untapped resource for local and foreign tourism in the form of sustainable activities such as recreational fishing, diving, boating and other such pleasurable things which do not damage fish stocks and yield tremendous financial gains for the country if managed well.
It is sheer short sightedness to pollute, overfish and unsustainably exploit our sea any longer. In the midst of the corona crisis not only will rural dishing communities and the country suffer irreversible losses of fishing stock but also a rapid spread of the virus in difficult to reach rural communities.