Monday, October 21, 2013

Tuna Mission 2009-2014: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

VOL. 35 | ISSUE. 09 | FRIDAY | 26 AUGUST 2011 |

Tuna Mission 2009-2014

The hype around Tuna Mission may not be a farce, but the mission might crash land before take-off due to the haphazard and piecemeal way of implementation. Lack of proper coordination between different agencies involved and the half-hearted approach of Department of Fisheries, the nodal agency, is pushing the mission backwards.

By Zubair Ahmed

A department, which has miserably failed to promote fisheries at local level and is groping through a dark tunnel, has ventured into an ambitious project, without men, machinery and vision. On collision with everything under its patronage, the department under Dr Krishnamurthy has already lost its face and confidence beyond recovery.

The genesis of Tuna Mission 2009-2014 under such a department is indeed a very interesting story. The continental shelf area of India is around 5.12 lakh sq. kms. The Exclusive Economic Zone around the Islands is 6.00 lakh sq kms, accounting for 30% of the total EEZ of the country The fishing zone under the command of Andaman and Nicobar Administration is upto 12 Nautical miles. If by a rough estimate, from the Northern tip to the Southern tip of the Islands, the area upto 12 Nautical Miles is calculated the area under the licensing command of the administration will be approximately 44000 sq kms.

The estimated potential yield of tuna resources in the EEZ around the Islands is about 64500 MT. Out of these three varieties are oceanic and available only in the deep sea, which are commercially viable in the international export market - Bigeye tuna - 500 MT, Yellow Fin Tuna - 24000 MT and Skipjack Tuna - 500 MT. There are three other varieties known as Neritic Tuna, available in the territorial or coastal zone with a potential of approximately 18000 MT which has no value in export market and has only local market. But, Khatta Bhangdi is a big no for locals. The Tuna Mission proclaims that the above varieties of Tuna is available in the Exclusive Economic Zone, but it never mentions that how much tuna is available in the 45000 sq kms, which comes under the licensing command of the administration. The three high value variety is oceanic variety and highly migratory in nature. And it's a fact that the assessment of the migratory route of tuna is still unknown and a mystery.

According to experts, there are two branches of tuna which migrates to Andaman Sea. It starts from Eastern Africa and moves towards South to Gulf of Eden and diverts eastwards towards Pakistan, Gujarat coast and comes down to Kerala Coast, from where it splits into two branches and moves towards Lakshadweep and Vizag. It is still unknown about the movement route of tuna from either of these branches. All assessment of the route of tuna migration is based on assumptions.

As per the Mission, the Department of Fisheries with the technical help of National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) on the basis of FSI’s findings will be initially installing 10 Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) at various locations in the Islands within the territorial waters. The use of FADs to attract and hold species of fishes like tuna is a recent significant development in the tuna fisheries in many countries.  Speaking to LOA, Dr NV Vineeth Kumar, Director, NIOT said that deployment of FADs has been quite successful in Lakshadweep, where fishermen were trained to catch fish around the FADs. He said that the aggregation of tuna fish has also increased around the FADs. However, the catch is that the most of the FADs will be placed in the coastal zone for the benefit of local fishermen with small crafts, and in this zone, deep sea vessels are not permitted to fish, which will adversely affect the tuna catch. Moreover, the quality of tuna available in the coastal zone is not of export quality. High quality tuna variety is available in deep sea, where only big vessels can venture.

Why Andaman and Nicobar have been made the base of Tuna Mission is also questionable. The Department of Fisheries, mired in various controversies due to its inefficiency and inaction in promoting fisheries at local level, has been made the nodal agency for implementation of this grand mission. “I cannot understand, why MPEDA is not fully involved in this project. MPEDA is treated as a pariah by the department,” said Bhaskar, President Andaman Chamber of Commerce. He also added that the local fishermen are not competent enough to catch tuna. Most astonishing fact is that in a report published in 2000 by Fisheries Survey of India, which is active in surveys and reporting about fish aggregation reports that the hooking rate of Yellow fin tuna is just 0.83%, Bigeye tuna - 0.003% and skipjack tuna is only 0.03%, which means that the combined hooking rate per 100 hooks will be hardly 1% of tuna.  Moreover, the combined catch per 100 hooks including shark and other fish species is just 37%. However, Dr D.L. Ramalingam, Zonal Director, FSI told LOA that 1% of tuna is a huge quantity and is profitable. The Mission is already off-track as two precious years has been lost and it has already overshot the short term targets without achieving anything. When asked about the delay in implementation of the Mission, Dr. Krishnamurthy, Director, Fisheries Dept said that they had to face many hurdles like arranging the loan component from banks for procurement of boats. As per the plan of action, by 2011, it should have introduced 50 Nos. of deep sea fishing vessels through private enterprise, which is yet to take off. He said that the department is giving subsidy upto 50% for tuna specific boats costing about Rs 15 Lakhs. However, the crafts suggested by the Fisheries department bring another sham to the fore.

The size of a Bigeye tuna is approximately 170 kg, Yellowfin 160-180 kg and Skipjack about 40 kg. The department is planning to convert and improve about 200 motorized dinghies (also called boats) for tuna fishing. These dinghies cannot venture into deep sea for tuna fishing and even if they catch tuna of the size mentioned above, how much quantity can these dinghies carry? Will they be able to maintain the export quality of fish onboard the dinghies with small iceboxes? And if the modified small motorized traditional crafts fish in the coastal areas, they will be harvesting the Neritic tuna, which is not preferred in the International export markets. This variety does not have a local market too as the local population equally detest this variety. Likewise, the tuna specific crafts of 10-12 mtrs proposed by the department on a subsidy of 50% are also not fit for tuna fishing. Tuna fish is prone to histamine formation after decomposition, which is highly allergic and not acceptable for export. It requires to be preserved in a controlled temperature, which is impossible on the crafts suggested by the department. A fishing expert speaking to LOA on anonymity said that the department is not interested in involving premier institutions like CIFTNET and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) based in Kerala, who have the technical expertise in designing tuna specific crafts and training the fishermen.

With time running out and no specific plan at place to identify prospective fishermen either from the Islands or mainland for tuna fishing, the various components of the Mission is lagging behind like any other developmental project in the Islands. The department has not initiated any action to develop ancillary infrastructure required once the mission takes off. On the ground, the  department has initiated the process of deployment of FADs with the technical help of FSI and NIOT. It has also started conversion of small boats. However, Bhaskar is skeptical and told LOA that this mission is not going to happen by 2014.  “How can such a mission be implemented in piecemeal basis? It should be taken up in turnkey basis and implemented with high zeal,” said Bhaskar.  But, Dr Ramalingam, Zonal Director, FSI was very positive and said that conclusions cannot be drawn so quickly. He further added that FADs will not just aggregate tuna. There will be other fishes too. When asked whether the FADs will be placed on the migratory route of tuna, he said that It is impossible to assess the route and FADs will be placed at locations as per the surveys.

The FADs, to be deployed will be useful for the local fishermen and the catch will naturally improve. But, how is it going to help the Tuna Mission cannot be predicted.

The only Fishing Training Centre in Port Blair has been auspiciously closed down due to the inactivity of the present director. The complete infrastructure is in shambles. Now, once again, in the name of Tuna Mission, funds will flow to revive it and later leave to the mercy of nature, by the time the administration realize that the mission was impossible. However, in a year, the incumbent director will be on superannuation and in 2014, when the mission is supposed to reach its pinnacle, he will not be there to blame.