Pakistan Reader# 198, 9 September 2021
The general apathy of the Pakistani authorities to the plight of the fishing community continues to be a serious case of state abandoning its citizensJuan Mary Joseph
On 16 June, hundreds of fishermen, political workers and members of civil society, including members of the National Party and Baloch Student Organisation staged a protest rally against the government of Pakistan for granting fishing rights to Chinese trawlers in Gwadar through licences.
On 23 June, the protestors said that the fishermen of Gwadar had vacated their fishing spots for the construction of the Gwadar port hoping that their economic conditions would improve once the port was ready. However, the move by the Imran government to issue licences to Chinese trawlers was badly affecting their livelihood.
On 24 June, media sources quoted that the Chinese vessels which have swamped the Pakistani coastline are 'factory ships' or commercial ships which contain food processing units to process and preserve the catch from the ocean.
On 24 June, Pakistani media termed the reports of Chinese fishing vessels pillaging fishery resources of Pakistan as baseless. The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Karachi further went on to state that five Chinese fishing vessels had sought shelter from the monsoon of the Indian Ocean at the Gwadar Anchorage. According to the crew, the fishing boats which arrived in the international waters in late November 2020, were in full compliance with the rules of international waters and did not conduct any Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Livelihood and environment in danger
Gwadar has been a natural seaport for centuries with fishing being a vital source of food and income for local residents. Close to 70 per cent of the regional population belong to the fishing communities.
The remote coastal town now lies at the heart of the multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is currently valued at more than $62 billion today. Since then, Gwadar has been a central topic of debate in national and international circles. The deep-sea port in the region acts as the entry point to the CPEC in Pakistan. As part of the project, a map released by the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) showed that the old neighbourhoods would be consumed by the port. As a consequence, a large number of the town’s population was relocated during the first phase of the port’s development to a new neighbourhood in the outskirts of the region called Noken Mullah Band. Though the residents were promised with better facilities and livelihood in return, these fruits haven’t reached them yet.
As a result, apart from the loss of their homes and their lands, the people in the region are concerned by China’s growing interest in exploring Gwadar’s fisheries.
The Chinese Consul General to Pakistan, Li Bijian’s interview in 2020 had expressed China’s desire to expand the local fishing industry in the region through ‘bigger boats, modern fishing tools and processing factories.
However, the Chinese factory ships actually refer to trawlers that threatens to wipe out the larger aquatic life. Trawlers use large nets with heavy weights that drags itself across the ocean floor to collect everything - fish of all sizes, along with eggs - a practice that conservationists deem deeply destructive.
The dwindling amount of marine produce has already been an issue with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report in 2015 stating that not a single resource in Pakistan’s marine fisheries is being fished sustainably. The FAO went on to conclude then that Pakistan’s dwindling marine resources was an “ongoing ecological disaster."
The recent protests in the wake of the new fishing legislations have created larger unrest among the fishing community. They allege that the provincial fisheries minister and the federal government officials are in hand in glove with the Chinese. Instead of supporting the stance of the local fishermen, they have been giving statements in favour of the Chinese, including denying the encroaching of trawlers in some areas.
The general apathy of the Pakistani authorities to the plight of the fishing community continues to be a serious case of state abandoning its citizens in return for the golden investments that China has promised. The call for cancellation of the Chinese licenses and better legislations to conserve their resources and livelihoods continue to echo with no visible actions from the Pakistani government.
Behram Baloch, “Gwadar Fishermen Hold Rally against Grant of Fishing Rights to Chinese Trawlers,” Dawn, June 16, 2021
“China Faces Ire of Pakistan's Fishermen in Gwadar” The Economic Times, 23 June 2021
“Chinese Fishing Trawlers Swamp Arabian Sea, BALOCH Fishermen Protest,” Daijiworld, 24 June 2021
“Chinese Fishing Vessels Seek Shelter AT Gwadar Port.” The Express Tribune, 26 June 26 2021
Mariyam Suleman, “How CPEC Left behind the People of Gwadar,” The Diplomat, 2 June 2 2021.
Notezai, Muhammad Akbar, and Atika Rehman, “Gwadar Fishers Fearful as China Eyes Pakistan's Fisheries,” The Third Pole, 16 February 2021.
“FAO.org.” FAO presents report on "Comprehensive Assessment of Pakistan's Marine Fisheries Resources 2015," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 9 January 2017