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India Looses Millions Annually On IUU Tuna Operations

For the second time this week activists from the Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza exposed illegal fishing practices within the Indian EEZ, off the Andaman Islands coast (1). The tuna long liners Balaji No. 5, 6 and 9, were in violation of the Letter of Permit (LoP) scheme, being registered concurrently in Taiwan and India (2). The scheme allows foreign vessels to fish within the Indian EEZ, provided they have an exclusive Indian registration and Indian owner (3). Greenpeace informed the Coast Guards and the Ministry of Agriculture of these violations.

The domestic fishing sector in Orissa including traditional fisher communities, have strongly opposed the scheme on the grounds that there has been no effective system to monitor the operation of LoP vessels. Fishermen assert of various instances of competition of local fisheries for both space and resources. Reports from various fisher unions, especially Balasore, suggest that the operation by Thai and other foreign vessels in their waters has impacted their livelihoods significantly.

This racket is aided by shell companies in India that facilitate the so called Indian registration of these vessels. All three vessels were ostensibly owned by an Indian seafood company but evidence obtained by Greenpeace proves that they are controlled by a Taiwanese company called Long Wang Chang (4).

A LoP vessel like Balaji No.5 catches about 60-80 tons of tuna every season worth half a million USD in international markets. Currently there are 79 licensed vessels operating in the Indian waters (5). In return they pay 200USD as licensing fees to the Ministry of Agriculture. Public records of the taxes paid by these vessels in previous years do not exist.

These vessels are also allowed to transship their catch—a practice that encourages underreporting since it is self- regulated. This means that they never land any of their catch in India thus making it impossible to track.

“This free for all attitude towards fishing for lucrative species like tuna in our waters will surely lead to a total collapse of fisheries in India like it already has in industrial fishing nations like Taiwan. Poor formulation, regulation and implementation of the LoP have made the Indian EEZ an attractive alternative fishing ground. This robbery has been happening right under the government’s nose for years and no action has been taken till date”, says Areeba Hamid, oceans campaigner with Greenpeace India on-board the Esperanza.

The LoP scheme has become a scam at the cost of India’s oceans and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people dependent on them. Greenpeace’s investigations on this issue highlight the broader systemic failure of the Indian government when it comes to the management of its seas.

Management and conservation of the oceans gains focus globally in 2012, with Governments at the Rio+20 Summit scheduled to negotiate the need for a UN High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, to protect international waters from fishing and other industrial activities. In follow-up, the 11th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in India will also have a strong emphasis on coastal and marine biodiversity. Until now world leaders have failed to deliver on the 10% target for Marine Protected Areas, a commitment made in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable development.

“Quite clearly, the situation in India mirrors the situation of the oceans globally. As host nation to the CBD COP in 2012, and a key player on global governance of the oceans, India stands to gain with proactive action. This begins with action at home, by suspending the Letter of Permit scheme and initiating a thorough investigation into the irregularities and violations that the scheme is riddled with,” concluded Hamid.