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  • Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Cochin, India


This paper discusses the deep sea fishing policies formulated in India since 1981. The paper also discusses the issues and impacts of these policies on the fishing industry and the coastal fishing community
Dr. A. Ramachandran
Professor, Fisheries Management
School of Industrial Fisheries, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Cochin, India
Mobile: +91 9447062400; e.mail:
Formulation of deep Sea Fishing Policy and its revisions in India are like rituals in the hands of few officials in the
Ministry of Agriculture. Policies are drafted and implemented overnight without consultations and examining the
aftermaths of the previous policy, its impact on the coastal resources and the stakeholders. The policy makers are not the
real stakeholders but the beneficiaries of the existence of a Department claiming to protect the interest of the coastal
Unlike most other developing countries, India has never signed a fisheries access agreement with a distant water fishing
nation (DWFN), and has persisted for decades in its attempts to develop its own offshore industrial fisheries to protect the
national interest. Indian marine fishing region can be broadly classified into coastal fishing within the territorial waters
administered by the Coastal States/Union Territories (Union List II) and the deep sea/offshore fishing beyond territorial
waters up to the boundary of EEZ claimed to be administered by the Central Government (Union List I) by virtue of the
authority given under the Constitution of India. List III contains a list of items which fall under the shared responsibility
of both the Union Government and the States (Concurrent List), and both the Indian Parliament and the State Legislatures
have power to pass laws regarding these items. In practice, traditional fishing vessels operate within 50 meters in depth
and small-scale vessels of less than 20m LOA operate up to 200 meters with exceptions of few vessels operating beyond
200 meters up to the 200 nautical mile border of the Indian EEZ. Coastal Fishing Policy has been an open access regime,
with many entrants exploiting coastal marine resources to their full potential. There are no legal provisions in place below
State level to legislate for fisheries management at the local level. All the Acts promulgated by the legislatures of the
Coastal States have given emphasis to the protection of the interest of the local fishermen with special consideration to
traditional sector. This has led to zonation in the territorial waters for traditional, motorised and mechanised vessels in all
these acts in order to reduce conflicts on the user rights among these groups. There is little priority for the issues of
sustainability of the resources.
There is no Act or Regulation in place in India to regulate Indian Fishing Vessels or manage fishery resources beyond
territorial waters up to the boundary of EEZ of India when tiny countries like Maldives have efficient laws to regulate and
manage fishery resources in their EEZ. Only legislation available in this zone is the Maritime Zones India (Regulation of
Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act of 1981 and its regulations of 1982 for foreign fishing vessels. Even this Act or
regulations do not cover anything to protect or conserve marine fishery resources. This means there is no law available in
the country to prevent any Indian fishing vessel from using any destructive fishing methods or even destroy the fishery
resources beyond repair in Indian waters beyond the territorial limits up to the boundary of EEZ. There was an attempt
made by the Government of India to draft a bill for fisheries regulations and management in 2009 but still the bill could
not be placed in the parliament for its consideration. Now it is being considered with some modification as 2012 bill.
India is the only country in the Indian Ocean to have no regulations for domestic vessels in this water zone.
Let us look at the previous Fisheries Policies and fate of those policies.
The first deep-sea policy was announced by Government in 1977, providing for chartering arrangements with foreign
operators, which was followed by a Charter Policy in 1981 for introduction of sophisticated foreign fishing vessels for
promotion of deep sea fishery. Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act of 1981 requires
60 percent of capital to be held by Indian citizens in joint venture companies, and an obligation to train Indian fishermen.
The Government revised the policy in 1986 to rectify the deficiencies noticed during its operation and to make it more
beneficial to the country and a revised 1986 Charter Policy was pronounced. This had to be withdrawn due to protest from
various corners especially the National Fishermen Forum. Having attempted to lay the foundation for the Indian deep sea
fishing industry, the government went ahead further with the initiatives through 1991 Deep Sea Fishing Policy which
envisaged joint venture, test fishing and leasing besides allowing the vessels chartered under 1986 policy to continue till
the validity of their permit period. Under this arrangement nobody could assess the actual catch of offshore industrial
vessels, operated by “Indian” companies under 100 percent foreign ownership. The traditional fishing sector had
apprehensions on the possible intrusion of DSF vessels into their coastal waters and thereby affecting the fish stock and
their livelihood. The traditional fishing community and the operators of small scale mechanised fishing vessels staged
various protests and demanded the cancellation of licences granted to DSF and thorough restructuring of new DSF Policy
introduced then in 1991.The arrangement was perfectly suiting one of the famous proverbs in Malayalam “ Thevarude
aana valiyada vali” meaning being a public property let others loot the resources.
Responding to the demands of the fishermen the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MFPI) constituted a committee
with D. Sudarshan, as Chairman in 1994. They recommended the following measures to improve the situation:
a. Total fishing efforts both in the coastal and deep waters must be regulated; b. Periodic review of the DSF operations
should be undertaken; c. Joint Venture, 100 per cent EOU and Indian owned DSF vessels must be allowed to operate only
beyond 15 nautical miles north of latitude, 180º off the North West Coast; d. Vessel tracking systems VTS) be installed in
all joint venture, leased and 100 per cent EOU DSF vessels; e. Catch reporting system be made legally binding for DSF
vessels fishing in the Indian EEZ; f. Members belonging to the traditional /small scale fishermen community must be
trained in the methods of DSF; g. Support fishermen co-operatives in setting up deep sea ventures; h. Comprehensive
legislation for exploitation and conservation of marine fishery resources and monitoring the fishing activities at national
and state levels; i. Government of India, all maritime states and UTs should evolve a code of conduct for fishing vessels
operating within the territorial waters.
The Murari Committee Constituted by the Central Government in1996 came up with very good recommendation to
sustain the resources along with protecting the interest of the fishermen and utilisation of the deep-sea resources in the
EEZ. Murari Committee recommended that; 1. All permits issued for fishing by joint venture/charter/lease/test fishing
should immediately be cancelled subject to legal processes as may be required. 2. No renewal, extension or new
licenses/permits be issued in future for fishing to joint venture / charter / lease / test fishing vessels. 3. All licenses/permits
for fishing may be made public documents and copy thereof made available for inspection in the office of the registered
authority. 4. The areas already being exploited or which may be exploited in the medium term by fishermen operating
traditional craft or mechanized vessels below 20m size shall not be permitted for exploitation by any vessels above 20 m.
length except currently operated Indian registered vessels which may operate in the area for only 3 years. 5. Since the
Indian mechanized boats below 20m size have the capacity to fish in depths up to about 70-90m; on the west coast, the
distance from the shore represented by 150m depth line should be out of bounds for all vessels of more than 20m length
except vessels which is now operated by traditional fishermen/small scale mechanised vessels. Where the 150m depth
zone is less than 50 nautical miles from the shore, the distance up to 100 nautical miles should be reserved for Indian
vessels less than 20m length. On the east coast, starting from Kanyakumari, Indian vessels below 20m size would have
exclusive access up to 100m depth or 50 nautical miles from the shore whichever is farther except relaxation given for the
existing vessels operated by the fishermen/small scale mechanised fishing vessels. The depth zone would also be defined
by coordinates indicating distance from the shore. Distance will be determined by National Hydrographic Office/ Coast
Guard/Fishery Survey of India. 6. In regard to Andaman & Nicobar and the Lakshadweep groups of islands, a distance of
50 nautical miles from the shore would be reserved exclusively for Indian vessels below 20m length except for the
relaxation given for the traditional/existing small scale fishing vessels. Further, if so required, the limit would be defined
taking into account the need to keep waters between islands reserved exclusively for Indian vessels, even if some portions
fall beyond the limit of 50 nautical miles. 7. In the area open to the vessels above 20m length, resource specific vessels for
tuna and tuna like fishes, squids and cuttle fish, deep-sea fin-fishes in mid-water or pelagic regions and oceanic tuna may
be allowed for exploitation by tuna longlining, tuna purse seining, squid jigging and mid-water trawling, provided these
are defacto Indian owned registered vessels. The Indian owners should have both the debt-equity as 51%. 8. The fleet size
for different fishing grounds may be fixed taking into account of the maximum sustainable yield and the need for
conservation of resources. 9. In order to conserve fishery resources in our waters, to protect fishermen and to reduce
conflicts in the sea, deep-sea fishing regulations should be enacted by the Parliament after consulting the fishing
community. 10. For preventing conflicts between the traditional, small mechanized, larger deep-sea vessels strict
vigilance to be exercised by the Coast Guard. To attain this objective the Coast Guard should be strengthened, expanded,
upgraded technically with the State-of-the-art system of navigation, surveillance and weaponry and properly tasked to
prevent poaching by foreign vessels and observance of zone restriction by indigenous vessels. In case Coast Guard is not
able to perform the task then by some other agency State or Central, would be identified to ensure that those vessels
excluded from specific areas do not violate prohibitions.
A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study done for the government -of India in April 1992 also questioned the
viability of foreign trawling: "The foreign operators are primarily seeking quick and highly lucrative results. They may
therefore leave the EEZ without having demonstrated anything positive for the local entrepreneurs." The FAO report
notes that in the early part of the '90s, a rapidly increasing number of deep-water trawlers operating off the Andaman and
Nicobar coasts led to a sharp drop in lobster catches.
EXIM (Export-Import) policy of the Government of India (Ministry of Commerce and Industry) introduced in 2000-01
permitted import of fishing vessels through the special import license (SIL) scheme. Taking advantage of this policy, in
2001, some entrepreneurs imported DSFVs and started operating in the Indian EEZ. A total of 11 Indian Companies
imported 32 DSFVs on deferred payment basis during that year and started operations after registration with the
Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) and on obtaining foreign crew clearances from Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Further, to regularize and monitor the vessels that were brought into the country under the said Policy, in June 2002, the
first batch of Letter of Permissions (LOPs) was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture to 11 companies for operating 32
vessels. Subsequently, the Government of India issued the first set of Guidelines on 01 November 2002. These guidelines,
with the purport of ensuring proper conduct of the DSFVs in the Indian EEZ, qualified the resource-specific fishing
methods ((i) long lining for tuna, (ii) tuna purse seining, (iii) squid jigging and squid hand lining, (iv) mid-water pelagic
trawling, (v) trap fishing) that were allowed under the LOP, and also outlined 21 dos and don’ts for the proper conduct
and smooth operation of such fishing vessels. The Guidelines also defined deep sea fishing (fishing activities beyond 12
nautical miles from the shore line i.e. the Territorial Waters) and deep sea fishing vessels (fishing vessels of 20 meter
overall length and above). In 2004 hook and line fishing and pole and line fishing were also incorporated under the
resource-specific fishing methods.
In late 2002, a new set of Guidelines for deep-sea fishing was announced by the Government. The focus now lies on the
registration status of vessels, rather than mode of acquisition of vessels under charter arrangements and joint ventures - as
the earlier policies did. It is reported that up to 200 vessels were exploiting offshore tuna resources, and deep water
species such as shrimp and lobster as per the charter/joint venture system which was existed at the beginning of 1990s.
Longlining and trawling for shrimp and demersals species were the main operations carried out by these vessels.
Following the 1996 abolition of the charter/joint venture system, numbers of industrial scale vessels operating in the EEZ
came down to below 60, but have subsequently picked up again under the guidelines on deep-sea fishing, promulgated by
Government in 2002.
As a ritual, the authorities after sleeping for over seven years on the deep sea fishing policy appointed another
Committee, Dr. Gopakumar Committee to draft the Comprehensive Marine Fisheries Policy (CMFP)- Marine Fishery
Policy of 2004. Sustainable harvest of marine fisheries resources is one of the key areas of the CMFP, 2004. The salient
recommendations are: 1. Promote exploitation of deep sea and oceanic waters through industrial fishing for reducing
fishing pressure in the traditional fishing areas 2. Motorise about 50% of traditional craft allowing the remaining to
carry on subsistence fishing in the near shore waters 3. Encourage small-mechanised sector by providing incentives for
acquisition of multi-day fishing units 4. Encourage introduction of more resource specific deep sea fishing vessels
(imported) of above 20 m length, mainly for tuna fishing and squid jigging, promoting joint venture for fishing in the EEZ
by fully Indian owned companies, etc. Ensuring welfare of the fishermen is a major driving factor in the Policy even
though little is done in this regard. It recommends reclassification of fishers and proposes that ‘artisanal fisheries
deploying outboard motors (OBMs) and small-mechanized boats up to 12 meter OAL should be treated at par with
agriculture while small-scale fisheries involving mechanized boats less than 20 meter OAL would be treated at par with
small-scale industries. Fishing vessels above 20 m and fishing activity involving mother ships or 18 factory vessels
should be treated as industrial activity. The admissibility and extent of concessions for each category should be re-
determined accordingly. Full time/occasional fishermen whose households do not own a boat should be treated at par with
landless labourer and should qualify for special care and protection. Revitalizing cooperatives and extending their reach is
also a major policy objective along with rationalization of ongoing welfare schemes on housing, saving-cum-relief and
As was done for the Murari Committee report, the CMFP recommendations were also kept in the cold store for 10 years
to constitute the latest committee Expert Committee for Comprehensive Review of Deep Fishing Policy and Guidelines
2014 with the following Terms of Reference (TORs):
I) To undertake review of Comprehensive Marine Fishing Policy of 2004 and to suggest a new Policy;
II) To review existing Guidelines for deep-sea fishing in EEZ;
III) To suggest full exploitation of catch potential in EEZ and international waters;
IV) To examine status of compliance of regional and global requirements of management and regulation of marine
fisheries including CCRF and proposed FAO Guidelines of Flag State responsibilities.
In fact the Departments and official responsible for non-implementation of the recommendations of the previous Murari
Committee Report and CMFP2004 were given the task of reviewing the CMFP 2004 and the earlier Guidelines. Had they
implemented these recommendations especially the Murari Committee recommendations immediately after its approval in
1996, the country would have by now utilised the entire fishery resources on a sustainable basis.
If we examine the whole report submitted by this committee headed by Dr. B. Meenakumari, there is nothing new in their
major recommendations compared to the recommendations given by the previous committees constituted by the
Government in the past 25 years except the following:
1. The claim of the committee that waters up to 200 meters depth are optimally exploited and in case of some species also
over-exploited and thus, there is no scope for expansion of fishing effort in this zone is only a guess work. This is a very
arbitrary statement when we analyse the strength and weakness of Indian fishing vessels that are capable of operating in
the entire 200 meter zone. Most of the vessels are of below 14-16 Meter category with or without fish holds and reaching
200 meter depth in Indian waters means an average distance of 60-75 nautical miles. This means they require 10-13 hours
of journey to reach the ground itself. There should be a scientific basis to claim that the resources up to 200 meters are
optimally exploited.
“Exploitation of resources in waters between 200 to 500 meters is now beginning, as small fishing boats (mainly in the 15
20 meter size ranges) are targeting the resources in this area. LOPs actually operating in Indian waters are only 70. We
can also expect some of the other indigenous vessels like the thoothoor Vessels (558 in number) and some of the
enterprising fishers from Gujarat-Maharashtra Region and Mangalore-Karwar Region to venture into this zone. When we
calculate the actual fishing cost and the earnings from fishing in this region it is a real challenge. According to their own
report the number of large fishing vessels which have the capability to cruise for days and doing fishing in areas within
200-500 meter zone is less than 800. The committee should have a clear view of the number of fishing vessels in
operation in the 200-500 meter depth zone of our vast EEZ before recommending something which has long lasting
impact on the coastal community. It is recommended that this depth zone may largely be kept as a buffer zone to
augment the resources in both the near-shore waters as well as in the off-shore areas. The committee has not taken into
account the cost of propulsion especially the fuel cost to propel beyond 500 meters by an Indian Vessel.
Another recommendation is that waters beyond 500 meter depth are not optimally exploited and there is considerable
scope of expansion in this zone, mainly for tuna and tuna-like species. Resource-specific fishing vessels may be
introduced in this area. Based on the resource potential of tuna and tuna like resources and other commercial species such
as squids, it is recommended that a fleet size of 1178 DSFVs may be considered for deployment in the Indian EEZ. This
includes the existing DSFVs and the additional numbers of 270 vessels (240 tuna long liners, 15 purse seiners and 15
squid jiggers). The arrangement with LOP vessels to train Indian crew is a failure. This stipulation was in force right from
1981 onwards but somehow this was purposefully ignored by both the vessel operators and the various Departments
responsible to implement this decision. Instead they were eager to relax this provision to the benefit of DSFV operators
and even after 34 years the same 25% is retained. Had this provision been implemented in letter and spirit in the
beginning itself, the country by this time would have sufficient trained manpower to man DSFVs. The training part shall
be assigned to the national training institutes like CIFNET. However, the institute has to be strengthened in terms of
different deep sea fishing vessels and good trainers including capable persons recruited from other deep-sea fishing
nations. The basis of recommending additional 270 DSFV vessels are not clear. Probably the Research Institutes like
CIFT shall be directed to take up at least one project each in major fishing operations long line, pole and line, midwater
trawl, pelagic trawl, purse seining, squid jigging, etc. beyond 500 meter depth to get a good insight on the actual
environment in the offshore areas. At present CIFT is not even having a vessel which can go beyond 500 meters. The
institute has to be strengthened with all these type of large fishing vessels having both commercial and research
operations. At any cost Government of India shall not entertain any foreign vessels in our EEZ instead support the Indian
Industrial Fishing Sector to achieve this capability by strengthening research and training capabilities in our R & D and
training institutions.
The recommendation of the committee to fix a minimum salary of USD 25,000 per annum is not within their mandate.
The recommendation to exempt DSFVs from the purview of ban based on the suggestions of the DSFV operators shall be
addressed with caution. Is there any scientific basis to prove that spawning season of tuna species does not coincide with
the period of uniform ban? This type of recommendations will have very adverse effect on our resources. The
recommendations on MCS measures including installation of VMS were given by the previous committees including the
Murari Committee and Sudarshan Committee. Why the officials responsible to implement such a recommendation failed
to implement it and rather repeat the same recommendations again and again? Do you expect the fishermen to implement
it? Now the committee repent on the loss of revenue to the Indian Fisheries Sector when our tiny neighbouring countries
like Maldives and Sri Lanka fish tuna resources when migrate to their waters. It is the failure of the helm of affairs in
I think the Murari Committee and the CMFP 2004 have several recommendations to strengthen the fishermen community
and harvest our fishery resources in the EEZ on a sustainable basis. When all other Indian Ocean countries have moved
forward in formulating a successful policy and implement it why our country is still in darkness? A Parliament
Committee may to be constituted to enquire on the reasons/failure of non-implementation of the recommendations of the
previous committees. Meanwhile the new committee report may be suspended from implementation to avoid any stress
and conflict in the coastal belt.
... Apart from target-specific fishing carried out, many non-target species also get caught in the process affecting the marine food web and in the underwater biodiversity, thereby damaging the benthic habitation. India seriously lacks structured regulations covering the conservation of marine fishery resources (Ramachandran 2016). Regulation of fish catch is a necessary step that needs to be taken by introducing Total Allowable Catch (TAC) systems currently lagging in India despite the system's presence in countries such as the Netherlands, Iceland, and Canada. ...
Full-text available
Purpose Being a primary product for a multitude of processed seafood, the ecological impacts of surimi have been less noted, despite its global supply dominance, especially in India. Life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluates the environmental sustainability of existing supply chain by comparing it with two other supply chain alternatives. The ecologically understudied and fragmented nature of the existing Indian surimi supply chain necessitates the authors to highlight the significance of supply chain localizations and the reductions obtained in ecological impacts. The current study will show the direction for developing strategy(s) to improve the environmental sustainability in Indian stance. Methods A cradle-gate approach of LCA is adopted right from fishing to an export market. Different supply chain alternatives such as the current state and two different states with different localizations and downstream alternatives (i.e., Scenario 1 with partial localizations and Scenario 2 with complete localizations) are analyzed to study the impacts. An economic analysis of these scenarios is also carried out to check the competency of the proposed alternatives for economic sustainability. Results and discussion Eleven environmental impacts considered for analysis under the existing supply chain scenario denote that the process of fishing has an average environmental impact of 74%. However, the inclusion of downstream operations such as distribution in the LCA analysis reveals a significant share of environmental impact averaging 53% from fishing and 34% from distribution for the 11 environmental indicators considered. A detailed assessment of the various alternatives considered reveals vital improvements for both Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 in human carcinogenic toxicity (8% and 16%), fossil resource scarcity (8% and 20%), and global warming potential (GWP) (6% and 16%), respectively, in comparison to the current state. A carbon footprint assessment of the complete surimi supply chain to an export market (considered in this study) via ship freight denotes reduction in footprint values from 4.67 kg CO2 equivalent/kg (existing state) to 4.43 kg CO2 equivalent/kg (Scenario 1) and 4.06 kg CO2 equivalent/kg (Scenario 2), respectively. The economic analysis reveals maximum fiscal gains of 9.83% and 13.31% in Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 respectively. Conclusion Results highlight that the introduction of supply chain localizations in the Indian surimi scenario can reduce environmental impacts and improve economic savings. Among the assessed alternatives, Scenario 2 is found to be the best sustainable alternative with reduced environmental impacts and improved savings.
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