For the past two weeks, 23 fishermen — nine from Kerala and the others from Tamil Nadu — have been in the custody of the British Navy after they strayed into the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia, a fishermen union claimed last week
Why Diego Garcia
The Indian waters are said to be over-exploited with too many trawlers and fishing boats competing for stock, forcing the fishermen to venture out deep into the sea, often crossing maritime boundaries. Fishermen from the Kerala and Tamil Nadu coast often go up to Diego Garcia (967 nautical miles or 1,796 km away from Kanyakumari coast), Muscat and Andaman and Nicobar Islands in search of sea wealth. The waters of Diego Garcia are known for their abundant fish wealth, particularly tuna and shark.
* Deep-sea-going fishermen of the southern region are concentrated in five villages in Kanyakumari, including Thoothoor, Chinnathurai, Kattathurai, Vallavilai and Poothurai. The 23 fishermen now in the custody of the British Navy are from of Thoothoor.
* Thoothoor, 45 km from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district, from where most boats set sail, has over 800 boats. The Thoothoor fishermen are traditional shark hunters, masters of deep-sea fishing who have complete command over India’s seaboard of around 8,000 km and 2 million square km of exclusive economic zone waters.
* Each of their boats can carry up to 14 people. A single trip in the deep seas takes 15 days to six weeks. The fishermen set sail in groups with provisions to last at least five weeks. The boats are equipped with wireless radios. As they stray into international waters, a voter card is often their only identification paper, their ‘passport’.
India’s stretched marine resources are often blamed on the overuse of mechanised trawlers that use bag-shaped nets that suck the seabed clean, thus damaging the marine ecosystem. Deep-sea fishing is considered the more traditional form of fishing, with the fishermen using hooks and lines for their catch of shark, tuna and other deep-sea fish. It’s a technique that is seen as more sustainable and less exploitative.
Each of these boats have 15,000 to 20,000 hooks of various types, one for almost every kind of shark or tuna. Around 2,000 hooks are placed along a 5 km-long nylon line that’s lowered into the water, a process that’s called shooting. The shooting and the hauling of the hooks back into the boat take about nine hours.
May 2015: British Navy at Diego Garcia intercept two boats from Thoothoor and take 23 fishermen into custody.
February 2015: The Seychelles Island Coast Guard arrest 20 fishermen from Thoothoor coast.
December 2014: Twenty six fishermen from Kanyakumari district arrested by the Bangladesh Navy in mid-sea near Kolkata.
October 2012: Twenty two fishermen from fishing hamlets in Kanyakumari arrested by the Qatar police for crossing their maritime boundary line.
* 12-200 nautical miles is India’s marine exclusive economic zone (EEZ). With a seaboard of 8,000 km, the EEZ, spread over an area of 2 million square km, is the zone in which the country has special rights regarding exploration and use of marine resources. The extent of EEZ has been the source of conflicts between countries. Between 1958 and 1976, UK and Iceland were involved in a series of confrontations, called the Cod Wars, over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.
* 10.07 million tonnes (mt) is India’s total fish production in 2014-15. Of this, 6.58 mt is inland fishery and 3.49 mt is marine fishery. India is one of the world’s largest producers of fish, making up 5.6 per cent of global fish production.