Marking World Fisheries Day on Saturday, speakers at an event vowed to guard rights of the indigenous fishermen and reject any construction on islands of the Arabian Sea.
The event was organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) with the themes, ‘Fisher people’s sovereignty on all marine islands’ and ‘Guard rights of the fisher people’, at Mir Jamot Jetty in the coastal neighbourhood of Ibrahim Hyderi.
It was the central and last event of the week-long activities that began on November 16 throughout Sindh in connection with World Fisheries Day.
Hundreds of fishermen and women as well as civil society activists attended the event. A large number of representatives of the fishing community from Thatta and Sujawal districts also participated in the event.
World Fisheries Day is celebrated every year on November 21 across the world by the fishing communities. Since its inception in 1998, the PFF has been observing the day every year.
World Fisheries Day has helped highlight problems of the fishing community and find solutions for them and in the long term identify sustainable means of maintaining fish stocks, said Muhammad Ali Shah, the PFF chairman.
He added that the fisher people rights body would guard the rights of the community and not tolerate any decision against the indigenous fishermen.
He said around three million fishermen in Sindh and Balochistan depended on marine fishing, mostly in creeks, while the government had decided to develop islands and construct cities that would close deprive the fishermen of livelihood.
The federal government has constituted the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) to construct cities on the twin islands of Bhundar (Bundal) and Dingi without any consultation with the Sindh government; however, the area falls under the provincial jurisdiction, Shah said.
“The PFF is protesting against such decisions and this year celebrating this World Fisheries Day by protesting the construction of cities over islands as they are the places for fishing and mangrove forests,” he said.
“Such federal government’s action is not only against the constitution of Pakistan but it is also against international conventions and agreements, which provide for social, economic and cultural sovereignty to the indigenous people.”
He said Pakistan has a coastal belt of over 1,050 kilometres and there are 300 small and big islands located along the Sindh coast only that would be taken into control by the federal government. Such islands are home to thousands of hectares of mangrove forests, which are nurseries of fish and shrimps while these creeks from Karachi to Thatta are fishing grounds for the fishermen, he added.
Talking on other issues of the fishermen, Shah said a recent United Nations study reported that more than two thirds of the world’s fisheries had been overfished or was fully harvested and more than one third was in a state of decline because of factors such as the loss of essential fish habitats, pollution and global warming.
The fishermen have been suffering a series of problems, including ghastly increasing marine pollution, and unconventional and non-traditional fishing practices including destructive nets and deep-sea trawlers that have ruined the ecosystem and drastically affected the livelihood of the fishermen, he said.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Sindh Assembly member Mahmood Alam Jamot said Pakistan had a coast of 1,050 kilometres, of which Balochistan coast was spread over 700 kilometres and Sindh coast was spread around 350 kilometres. However, Sindh’s 2.5 million fishermen who directly or indirectly are dependent on marine and freshwater fisheries are economically depressed and lacked basic facilities, he added.
He said that the use of banned nets had damaged the fish stocks and so such nets should never be used.
Researcher and historian Gul Hassan Kalmati said they needed to initiate a joint struggle to save their marine assets. He added that the PPP, which had a majority in the Senate must take up the issue at the upper house of Parliament.
Participants at the event declared that the islands were the property of the fishermen of Balochistan and Sindh and no construction should be made on them and the presidential ordinance for the PIDA should be withdrawn.
They added that foreign deep-sea trawlers nears the Karachi coast should not be issued licences as they were damaging fish stocks.
In order to reduce marine pollution, no industrial as well as residential waste should be discharged into the sea without treatment, they said. They also demanded sufficient release of water downstream Kotri to provide life to the Indus delta.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan co-chair Asad Iqbal Butt, trade unionist
Usman Baloch, fishing community leader Fatima Majeed, Awami Workers Party Sindh President Bakhshal Thalho, fisher folk leader Jan Alam Jamot and Jeay Sindh Mahaz chief Abdul Khaliq Junejo also addressed the gathering.
A colourful cultural programme was also held, which included songs and tableaus where youths highlighted issues of the fishing people.