ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Responsible Fisheries?

A Response to the ‘New Path’ of Co-governance

The article “Responsible Fisheries: Kerala Fish Workers Open New Path in Co-governance” (EPW, 29 August 2015) argued that the “Kochi Initiative” in Kerala—a collaboration between fishers and government scientists—was a major breakthrough in fisheries governance. We suggest that these authors cheered too soon. Through evidence from coastal Tamil Nadu, we note the history of the debate among fishers on environmental and justice impacts of new technology. Fisher management skills are usually ignored by state agencies which also fail to govern effectively. While co-management is the way to go, it requires more state effort.

Written by two scientists of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), C Ramachandran and K S Mohamed, the article “Responsible Fisheries: Kerala Fish Workers Open New Path in Co-governance” (EPW, 29 August 2015) describes the so-called Kochi Initiative of fishers and scientists that resulted in agreements for the problems occurring in the fisheries for small pelagics such as oil sardines and mackerel. The authors argue that the “pelagic famine,” or reduction in migratory fish stocks, which is currently affecting the state, has induced both small-scale fishers and their mechanised boat counterparts to approach the scientific community and agree to codes of conduct for both ring seining and trawling. In addition to other clauses, these codes include “scientifically proven” regulations to reduce overfishing. Moreover, the state is argued to be buying into the initiative, creating conditions for responsible co-governance.

While agreeing on the urgency of fisheries governance in India and the need for the state to change its attitude of viewing capture fisheries as a source of endless expansion or near collapse, this article aims to contextualise the Kochi Initiative in various ways. We agree that endeavours like this one are worthwhile and that scientists should indeed roll up their sleeves and engage in the “dirty work” of real-life governance. This article challenges, however, the exceptionality of regulatory attempts in the capture fisheries of India and also underlines their complexity. The latter quality is illustrated by the stalling of the Kochi Initiative following the publication of the article, which is explained as the result of discord in the fisher leadership as well as governmental temporising.1 This teaches us, if anything, that when it comes to the restructuring of fisheries governance in India, one should beware of cheering too soon. Successful management requires a broad and long-term vision, strong communication skills as well as perseverance.

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Updated On : 4th Oct, 2017
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