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State and Marine Shrimp Capture Fisheries in India

Chandrika SHARMA

01 / 1998

Shrimp has traditionally been harvested and exported from India to the developing South and Southeast Asian countries for well over a century. However, the shrimp was harvested only during certain seasons using selective nets or from traditional forms of tidal-based shrimp-rice culture. All exports were in the dried form. The major changes in the post-1960 period pertain to the perennial harvest of shrimp using bottom trawlers, a switch to

freezing technology for processing and a change in the direction of trade to the developed countries like USA, Europe and Japan.

Both the quantum and value of exports rose as a consequence. The quantity of shrimp exported rose from 4,000 tonnes between 1961-65 to 84,000 tonnes between 1991-95, and the corresponding value from Rs. 26 million to Rs. 15,110 million respectively. The euphoria about the rapid rise in foreign exchange earnings tended to mask the disparity between the benefits of foreign exchange earnings for the country and the financial, social and environment costs inflicted on society as a result of the anarchic development of the marine shrimp

harvesting and export processing industry. Central to this was the lack of any regulation intended to regulate access into the sector, particularly into the realms of harvesting.

The policy of open access to the coastal waters coupled with a lucrative subsidy scheme for the investment in trawlers led to a growing over-investment in trawlers. In the southern maritime states there was a conscious attempt to support, through attractive subsidies and loans, small trawlers that would fish for shrimp in coastal waters. Such largesse led to the proliferation of trawlers creating a situation of economic overfishing. A government committee appointed to study the question of resource depletion and overfishing in Kerala, for

example, was of the unanimous opinion that the investment in Kerala’s coastal waters was far

above the desirable optimal levels.

The report of the Committee to Review the Deep Sea Fishing Policy, submitted to the Ministry of Food Processing in November 1995, noted the following in the context of the government policy of support to deep sea fishing vessels: " A number of Indian companies acquired deep sea fishing vessels but almost all of these were shrimp trawlers and operated on the East Coast in a limited area from Vishakapatnam. The fleet strength of these shrimp trawlers continued to rise and their operations were economically viable till a point was

reached when the gold rush tendency invited more players in the field than was sustainable on the basis of the available resources. The average catch per trawler reached an all time high of 35 tonnes per annum when the total number of vessels operating was 68 in 1984. As the number of shrimp trawlers continued to increase and reached 180 in 1991, the average catch per trawler hovered between 2.6 tonnes and 10.5 tonnes between 1987 and 1991."

Overcapitalisation, fuelled by the state, took its toll of the marine ecosystem. Excessive trawling on a perennial basis affected the quantum and the composition of the overall marine landings and the distribution of output between the trawler fleet and the traditional crafts operated by the thousands of the small-scale, coastal fishworkers who had continued, by and large, to use selective fishing gear. The physical conflicts between them and the trawlers led to grave social tensions all along the coastal belts. In the southern states of Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, a major socio-ecological movement of the coastal fishing communities

opposed to the indiscriminate trawling operations developed rapidly and coalesced into a national trade union. Collective action initiated by this organisation forced the state governments to create zones exclusively for artisanal fishing in the coastal waters.

Significantly, if export earnings are analysed to find out whether the gains have been the result of supply driven or demand determined factors, it is evident the gains are largely due to price changes in the final product (demand determined)and not due to volume increases or greater product diversity (supply determined).

Palabras claves

pesca, deterioro ambiental, organización de pescadores, conflicto

, India


The state-supported increase in shrimp trawling led to enhanced production of shrimp and higher foreign exchange earnings. However, from all indications the increased pressure on shrimp stocks led to a situation of overfishing and declining returns. As a consequence, only about half the shrimp trawlers earlier purchased through government loans and subsidies in the post-1960 period were operating in 1995. Moreover, as competition

over increasingly scarce resources increased, conflicts between the artisanal sector and trawlers also went up. State policies supporting trawling for shrimp can, therefore, be questioned, both from a social and an ecological perspective.

Significantly, in the period 1981-85 and 1986-90 the quantum of shrimp exports increased only from 53,000 to 55,000 tonnes. This decline in exports has formed an important basis for government support to coastal shrimp aquaculture. However, this basis can be questioned since an analysis of the data indicates that total production, has not, in fact declined, and that, therefore, the decline in exports are more likely due to external market-related factors. The state has pointed to the decline in export of captured shrimp to outline policies extending full support for shrimp aquaculture. In the process it is repeating the shortcomings of its past policies supporting shrimp trawling, and environmental and social interests are being compromised. Serious attention needs to be paid to these issues if the quest for sustainable social, economic and environmental development is to be realised. Short-term interests must not be allowed to override issues of long-term sustainability.


Text draws from the paper presented by John Kurien, titled "State and Shrimp", to the FAO Technical Consultation on Policies for Sustainable Shrimp Culture, held in Bangkok, Thailand, 8-11 Decemeber 1997.


Actas de coloquio, encuentro, seminario,…

KURIEN, John, State and Shrimp

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - India - - icsf (@)

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