Facts about illegal Indian fishing activity inside Pakistan EEZ

ffKhalid Khokhar

Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200-nautical miles, designated by the United Nations, is overwhelmingly enriched in both living and non-living marine resources – especially the Indus Delta region has abundance of prime quality fish that entice the neighbouring Indian fishermen, who deliberately violate the international boundaries and indulge in illegal fishing activities in Pakistan’s EEZ.

Despite the best monitoring efforts of the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA), deliberate violation of Pakistani EEZ by Indian fishermen continues causing huge losses to Pakistan’s fisheries resources. Emotional stories regarding the plight of Indian fishermen facing persecution in Pakistani jails are published. Some of the convicted fisherman, when interviewed by the media, projected the predetermined theme in a parrot-like manner. NGOs, humanitarian organisations, respectable members of the society, etc, in innocence adopt the same stance and project the fishermen as victims of the circumstances beyond their control. Arrests are blamed on the insensitivity and highhandedness of the PMSA and other Pakistani law enforcement agencies.
The PMSA, being the sole maritime law enforcement agency, undertakes concerted operational efforts to prevent the poaching activities by Indian fishermen. In this regard, besides regular deployment of ships and surveillance by aircraft, a series of focused anti-poaching operations are also conducted in the Eastern Maritime Region.
To curb this tendency, Indian boats close to the EEZ boundary (10-15 NM) are cleared from the Pakistani limits towards India.
Even among those Indian fishing boats, which intrude deeper into our EEZ, only a few boats are apprehended and majority are cleared off. Moreover, children/elderly are invariably released/let go, purely on humanitarian grounds. The extent of the illegal activity is an indication of the lure despite the peril of apprehension.
However, regular patrolling and clearing of these fishermen by the PMSA ships has progressively resulted in substantial decrease in the presence of Indian boats. During the recent past (September 2012 onwards), 131 boats and 484 crewmembers have been apprehended, which is but a mere drop in the ocean. During the trials of Indian fishermen, the Pakistani courts adopt a humanitarian view and award light sentences from one to three years for this deliberate illegal activity. Frequently, as a goodwill gesture, the government of Pakistan releases them before the end of their sentence. On the contrary, the Indian law enforcement agencies mete out very harsh punishment to the Pakistani fishermen and they are kept away from the judicial process for a long time.
According to marine experts, quality fish is available in abundance in Pakistani creeks. The Indian fishermen deliberately take risks to fish in Pakistani territorial limits. Such poaching activities not only deplete the highly priced marine species, it also inflicts a loss of Rs8.1 billion per annum to the government exchequer. During January 2012 to March 2013, 184 boats, along with 606 Indian fisher-folks, who were fishing more than 25-100 NMs inside our EEZ, were apprehended. It clearly reflects the deliberate intrusion marked by mala fide intent, especially when all the Indian boats have Global Positioning System (GPS) installed in their boats that tells the exact position of the boat. These fishermen mainly sail from Okha or Porbandar in India, which are around 115 NM (148 km) and 135 NM (250 km) (I nautical mile = 1.85 km) respectively from our EEZ.
The boats travel even further ahead of the EEZ and their deliberate acts of intrusion are done well within Pakistan’s waters. Most regrettably, some violators are apprehended even 100 nautical miles inside our waters. These incursions are not restricted to a few ‘innocent inadvertent crossers’ but at occasions number over 300 boats. The lure of the rich fish catch is extremely attractive and worth taking a calculated risk vis-à-vis the expected return. Moreover, the nets used by them are internationally banned, due to their very small mesh size.
On the contrary, any crossing by Pakistani fishermen into the Indian EEZ is indeed inadvertent as there is no fishing attraction in Indian waters. From January 2012 till end March 2013, numerous incursions of massive quantity (totalling thousands) were regularly reported in Pakistani EEZ. However, during the same period, only 12 Pakistani fishing boats were apprehended by the Indian Coast Guard units and that too in close proximity of the EEZ demarcation.
A hotline was earlier established in November 2006 for exchange of information and coordination between the two director generals. The intrusions are regularly conveyed to the Indian Coast Guards. Regrettably, the response has at best been lukewarm and no effective action to curb the ingress has been taken, indicating tacit state approval of this criminal activity.

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