By Saleem Shaikh
THE Dam fishing area of Lasbella district, some 90 kilometres northwest of Karachi, once used to be a busy fish-landing site and a scenic eco-tourism point in Balochistan.
It was also the centre of economic activity, with the lowest level of poverty and unemployment in the province. Thousands of tons of fish catch was unloaded every day at the area’s only jetty, known as Dam Jetty, and transported to Karachi and other parts of the country.
In the past, over 2,000 large fishing vessels and hundreds of small boats would berth at the Dam Jetty every week and unload tons of fish catch. Over 30,000 locals used to earn their livelihood from the economic activities at the jetty, according to official reports.
Many local people were also involved in the profession of boat-making and earning their livelihood. Unfortunately, the demand for boats is at its lowest ebb owing to the dwindling fishing activities. Around 85 per cent of boat-makers have lost their jobs and switched over to other professions, Ali Ahmed, a former boat-maker, said.
“This is due to, among other reasons, the depleting stocks of fish in the sea as a result of excessive catch and use of nets of prohibited bore,” said Salam Maheri, an official of the federal marine fisheries department.
Because of damaging fishing practices, the coastal waters which had enormous marine fish, have very little stock, said Ali Hasnain, a WWF – Pakistan’s Marine Coastal Development consultant.
The fishing boat owners estimate around 70 per cent drop in fish catch over the last two months. They said: “The situation grew alarming since the big investors stepped in the fishing activities at the cost of small fishermen. They particularly used prohibited nets, commonly known as Bullo, Gujjo and wire net, wherein even the smallest fish would get caught,” he said. A visit to the area indicates that restricted nets were being used by fishermen as heaps of small fish are littered around the landing site and being destroyed.
“When we small boat owners go for fishing only small fish are netted,” said Nabi Baloch, a fisherman of the area. “Although small fish never fetch good prices in local markets, they are in high demand by chicken feed factories.
Pir Bux, member of the MIT, said that a 40kg container of Pomfret of small size usually fetches around Rs6,000-8,000. But the same quantity fish when one-foot large, would fetch Rs80,000.
“In fact, small nets are banned in the area but big investors, with strong links with political clout, use them with impunity,” he said.
Many of them hold the area fisheries department officials responsible for unlawful fishing practices. Fisheries experts say that because of inappropriate fishing practices, some of 350 fish species of high economic value found in the coastal waters of the area, are gradually becoming extinct.
At present, pomfret, shrimp, Indian threadfin, black seabream, mullets, spotted croaker, barramundi, requiem, shark, grouper, croaker, crab, species of jellyfish are found in these coastal waters.
“Absence of basic facilities, modern speeding boats, proper roads and cleanliness in the area have dealt a hard blow to eco-tourism activities and only a few people visit the area now,” said Master Abdul Rasheed of Sonmiani Development Organisation.
Non-availability of potable water is a major problem for some 10,000 families living in the Dam fishing village. “We have to spend a hefty amount of our hard-earned money for buying drinking water, which is brought from Karachi through tankers,” said Rafiq Baloch, a local fisherman, who hardly earns Rs140-160 a day.
Master Abdul Rasheed believed the lost economic activities and eco-tourism growth potential of the area could be regained if Balochistan government invested in the basic infrastructure of the area including provision of potable water, sanitation, drainage, schools and health facilities.
Published in daily Dawn on October 11, 2010
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