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Potential Fishing Zones (PFZs) – too risky for Indian fisheries?


Googling ‘Potential Fishing Zones’ will hit you on several links and most of them (well all) may refer to Indian fisheries. To my knowledge, no other country currently use remotely sensed data to provide fishing locations (on a daily basis) where the fishermen may target to improve their profitability (thus it reduces the time and effort on searching fish shoals). These locations are provided by the INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services) who use satellite data (for chlorophyll concentrations and sea surface temperature) to map areas of fish aggregations (see the NEWS). The method inherently assume that fish aggregations occur at areas with high phytoplankton density (the probability is high for small pelagic fishes since they directly feed on phytoplanktons, thus skipping many levels of the trophic pyramid; see here). Since 1999, many authors have validated this assumption proving higher Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) at PFZs adviced by the INCOIS (see here, here and here).23VJTANHI-W032-_HY_1496501e

Pros and Cons

The PFZ advisory mechanism in India is one of the finest example where other countries could potentially follow because it has a direct impact on the socio-economic status of the fishermen. I highlight this because many criticisms have been raised recently on pumping tax payers money to research areas where no benefits (in short term) are visible to the public. Having said that, there are increasing evidences on declining fish populations all over the world (due to overfishing and possibly the ‘climate change’). In that context, providing advice on PFZs is neither good for the fish population or the fishermen community (unless a high abundance of the fish population exist).

State of Indian fisheries

Based on global definitions, most fish stocks along the Indian coast can be considered as ‘data-limited’ or ‘data poor’ because the information available is limited to a time series of fish landings (note that the landings are not the actual amount of fish harvested from the population because a good proportion is discarded back to sea). Hence a fully quantitative based analysis or stock assessment is not possible to determine whether the fish stock is being underfished, sustainably fished, overfished or collapsed. A few fish stocks have length-frequency data but the analysis is limited to methods described in the FAO technical paper (i.e., Introduction to tropical fish stock assessment by Per Sparre and Venema 1998). However, the reports on fish stock assessments appear every¬† 5-10 year (on an average) which means that the risk to the stock is not monitored in a per annum basis (even though the fish landings are monitored annually). The country also lack expertise (more than the data availability itself) to develop or run the more complex and efficient analytical models (e.g. Integrated size-structured models) that are currently being used for length based fish stock assessments elsewhere. In a nutshell, there is no information on the state of fisheries (underfished, overfished or collapsed) even for the well studied fish stocks along the Indian coast.

PFZs – are they too risky for Indian fisheries?

It is risky to advice the hot fishing spots when the abundance of fish populations are not available. More importantly, the shoal forming pelagic species such as Indian Oil Sardine (Sardinella longiceps) and Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta) are potentially more vulnerable to PFZ implementation as they feed directly on the planktons. These species are short lived and have a recruitment driven fisheries but the Spawning Stock Biomass (the biomass of mature fish in the population) estimates are not available (at least to the public) due to the lack of annual fish stock assessments. Even if they are available, the only regulatory mechanism to control overfishing is the monsoon trawl ban (trawl fishing is closed between June-August for a fixed period of 45 days during the breeding season) but the period of ‘closed season’ do not change with the abundance level of the fish populations.

Whether PFZs are working?

There is no information on whether PFZs are actually giving any benefits to the fishermen (or declining the fish stocks). All research so far has been spent on improving the identification of PFZs (remote sensing) and validation of fisheries data (using CPUE) through research vessel surveys. There are no reports on whether the PFZ advisories are currently being used by the fishermen to improve their profit (or do they even rely on PFZ fishing spots!). This is a potential area of research for a Masters or PhD thesis.

P.S: Why not ‘Potential No-take Zones (PNZs)’ instead?