There is an old proverb, beloved of fisherfolk in Pakistan, that says when all else fails the sea will provide. Now, after centuries of surviving on fish such as the tuna and shrimp that thrive in Pakistan’s coastal waters, many traditional fishing communities are facing ruin as the sea is stripped bare by foreign trawler fleets and industrial overfishing.
According to trade campaigners, it is a story that is being replicated in poor fishing communities in developing countries across the world. And as the current round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations splutter back to life, the demise of Pakistan’s fishing communities is being held up as a warning of the impact that the moves to further liberalise global fishing could have on some of the world’s most deprived communities.
The Pakistani Maritime Security Agency (MSA), which polices fishing along Pakistan’s coastline, says there are currently 23 mid-size trawling boats and 21 trans-national trawlers operating with licences in Pakistani waters.
Local fishermen in Ibrahim Hydri, a small fishing town in the sparse Sindh coastal province, unload their fishing boats just yards from half-a-dozen trawlers with Chinese insignia in the town harbour. Many dispute the official figures, insisting that around 100 foreign ships have been spotted in local waters in the last 12 months.
“Since the government has let these foreign ships into our waters, our stocks have depleted and there is nothing left,” says local fisherman Abbas Ali. “For hundreds of years, our forefathers have fished these waters, but our children are going to end up beggars.”
He says the town’s small wooden fishing boats are no match for the trawlers. “It’s like trying to race a truck with a bicycle,” he says. “In just a few years, these people have come here, destroyed the sea, and stolen our livelihoods from us.”
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