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Fish get marine police cover

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Panaji, Dec 16 (IANS) Goa loves its fish fried and curried. But fishermen in this coastal state are now fuming over trawlers from Karnataka and Maharashtra "poaching" in the state’s waters.

After recent incidents of high-powered boats from neighbouring states coming in by the droves to net fish from Goa’s territorial waters, the Goa government has been forced to post marine police at sea to guard its fish!

"We have received complaints from fishermen that trawlers from neighbouring states like Karnataka and Maharashtra are coming into our water and stealing fish. We had a meeting with the fishermen’s association and have come up with various solutions," Fisheries Minister Avertano Furtado told IANS.

Furtado said that the menace had to be arrested, especially because the fish haul in the state was on the downswing and tough measures like posting policemen to "haul in the culprits" needed to be taken.

"We are entrusting the responsibility to the marine police. Anyone stealing our fish will be punished," Furtado said.

The Goa police have a marine wing, which was set up some years ago to combat crimes off the land.

Marine scientists have repeatedly warned of a fish famine in Goa, blaming rampant over-fishing, tourism demands and disregard for the fishing ban during the spawning period. These are offered as reasons for the depletion of fish in the waters off Goa.

An annual haul of nearly a 1.03 lakh tonnes in 2005 has now shrunk to nearly 75,000 tonnes last year, according to government reports.

"With fish and fishing products decreasing by the year, all efforts are being made to provide the infrastructure needed at the landing centres so as to minimise the port harvest losses," the report states.

"With the total fish production in the state crossing maximum sustainable yield (MSY), there is a need to restrict the fishing efforts in the coastal waters of the state," the report advises.

Goa has over 1,400 registered trawlers, which haul in the fish and prawns for consumption in the tourism-driven state as well as for export.

The raids by fishermen from the neighbouring states in these fish-depleted waters are only adding to the problem, according to Menino Afonso, chairman of the Mandovi Fisheries Cooperative Society, located near Panaji.

Last week, the police as well as the state fisheries department failed to respond to their SOS, as Menino and his team got a tip-off that four trawlers from Karnataka were poaching in waters off Goa.

"It was a tough thing. We raced through the water for almost an hour, before we saw those Karnataka trawlers and they were loaded with fish. We trapped them and brought them to Goa," Menino said, recalling the Dec 11 incident.

He said that the poachers are often better equipped than regular fishermen.

"While we use the regulation 140 BHP engines, these trawlers had 350 BHP engines, which are illegal, but it also makes them fast and difficult to catch," he said.

Fisheries department officials said that not just Karnataka, but fishermen from Mahrashtra and even Kerala have been reported to be fishing in waters off Goa.

"Trawlers registered in one state can only fish in the water off that state, not anywhere on the coastline. The inclusion of policemen in our fisheries department teams will help us a lot to curb fishing by people from other states," the official said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

–Indo-Asian News Service