Monday, January 24, 2011

Enforcing new fisheries law

By Saleem Shaikh

January 24, 2011

WHILE fishermen across Sindh have welcomed the abolition of contract/lease system for water bodies, they have urged the provincial government to enforce effectively the licensing system for their rehabilitation. They fear resistance from the legally but not physically displaced influential ex-stakeholders.
On January 14, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Fisheries Amended Bill 2011, tabled by Sindh Fisheries Minister Zahid Ali Bhurgari to replace the contract/lease system with the licence system.
The licence system, first introduced in 1977, to regulate fisheries was replaced with the contract/lease system under the Sindh Fisheries Ordinance 1980.The section 3[1] of the ordinance 1980 reads as: “Government may, by general or special order, grant licence or lease for fishing in any public waters on such terms and conditions and on payment of such fees as may be prescribed.” While section 3 [2] reads as: “Where a lease has been granted under sub-section [1], the lease-holders may issue permits for fishing in the leased waters, in such form and subject to such conditions and on payment of such fees, as may be prescribed.”
But, this provision was widely abused by government officials and water bodies were auctioned to only influential people while local fishermen were deprived of their right to fish.
“In the beginning, this exploitative (contract) system was introduced on few fishing lakes, but gradually more and more lakes were brought under this system,” said Sami Shah, spokesman for the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF).
In its district-level survey, conducted after the recent floods, the PFF found that around 300 out of 1,209 water bodies were under illegal control of influential people while several others had been contracted to politicians, landlords and others.
The licensing system, fishermen believe, will help revive sustainable use of fisheries resources of the province’s 1209 public water bodies and improve their livelihood. Before the contract system, these water bodies provided livelihood to some 0.5 million fishermen.
Tabling the amended bill in the provincial assembly on January 14, provincial fisheries minister Zahid Bhurgari said the contract system had worsened the socio-economic condition of fishermen. He hoped that the licensing system would help restore the livelihood of fishermen and check unsustainable fishing practices in sweet water bodies.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s chairman Mohammad Ali Shah has said: “We would now push the government for effective implementation of the amended act.”
Shah added that it was the birth right of fishermen to catch fish from the waters where they live and the government’s role was to protect their rights at any cost.
Officials in the provincial fisheries department, who are not sure if the amended act shall be enforced effectively, also term retrieving possession of the contracted water bodies ‘no less than any challenging task’.
“Getting back possession of the contracted water bodies from the clutches of influential contractors to whom the leases were awarded – mostly on political grounds – is really a daunting and risky task,” said a senior official, who contributed actively in the abolition of the contract system.
But, the fisheries minister appears determined to embark upon the task fraught with perils.
“District level committees, comprising MPAs and MNAs, shall be set up to help the local administration get back control of the contracted water bodies from the contractors,” said the Sindh Fisheries Minister Zahid Bhurgari.
To ensure implementation of the Sindh Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2011, the provincial lawmakers have underscored the need for ensuring close coordination between relevant departments.

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