Order of the Supreme Court of India on Purse Seine fishing, 24/01/2023

  • 24/01/2023

Order of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Fisherman Care Vs The Government of India, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries & Others dated 24/01/2023.

The matter relates to the use of a fishing method called Purse Seine Fishing.

The Fisheries Department, government of Tamil Nadu vide its order dated March 25, 2000 had banned the use of Purse Seine Fishing nets within its territorial waters - within 12 nautical miles (22 kms from the coast line).

A petition was filed before the Madras High Court by Fisherman Care Association relying on the report of an Expert Committee for allowing purse seine fishing within the territorial waters. The Division Bench of the Madras High Court, April 20, 2021 dismissed the Writ Petition holding that the government has taken an informed decision by banning purse seine fishing within its territorial waters.

Three writ petitions were filed by the petitioners where the relief sought is to permit the petitioners to do fishing with purse seine fishing nets beyond the territorial waters in the state of Tamil Nadu. The petitioners are aggrieved by the restrictions imposed by the Tamil Nadu government on purse seine fishing.

The request to purse seine fishing (PSF) was opposed by Mukul Rohtagi, senior counsel appearing for the state of Tamil Nadu, who submitted that this method of fishing is a ‘pernicious’ method of fishing,   as it is harmful to marine life, including fish. Further, PSF is a nonselective fishing technology which captures all kinds of fish, which would include protected species as well.  It is a method which is used by "affluent and rich fishermen or big fishing companies, as this technology is  costly and is beyond   the   reach   of   ordinary   fishermen".  The   vast   majority  of fishermen of the state of Tamil Nadu who are traditionally engaged in fishing for their livelihood cannot afford this technology and depend on traditional methods of fishing, the counsel for Tamil Nadu informed the court.

The court has been informed that  some of the coastal states/Union Territories such as Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha,   Karnataka,  Goa and West Bengal have not made any restrictions on Purse Seine Fishing, within its territorial waters. This ban has been imposed by Tamil Nadu and  Maharashtra.

As far as the fishing beyond territorial waters, but within Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is concerned, the court has been told by K M Nataraj, Additional Solicitor General for the Union of India that the UOI has placed no restrictions on this method of fishing.

Counsel for the petitioners have submitted that a large number of families are dependent in one way or another in the fishing activity. The fishing season will come to an end by February 2023 and in case they are not allowed to fish beyond territorial waters they would also be incurring a huge loss as there has been a large investment on their part for purchase of vessels as well as Purse Seine fishing nets.

The court said that the method of purse seine fishing has more than one aspect that needs to be looked into by the court as there is definitely a conflict of economic interests between fishermen. Biological diversity also needs to be taken into consideration, the court said.

The Supreme Court was of the opinion that interest of all parties needs to be protected and passed a restricted interim order, allowing purse seine fishing beyond the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu, but within the Exclusive Economic Zone with certain conditions.