Fishery Trade in the Trap of Pirates of the Sea


[1] (H), Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi


Title: Fishery Trade in the Trap of Pirates of the Sea
Keywords:Fishery sector; National Income; Laws and Policies
Issue Date:October 9, 2023
Publisher:IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute
Abstract:The fishery sector contributes a significant role in national income and its growth in the recent past also witnessed impressive outcomes. However, the fishery trade is facing some prominent encounters in terms of illicit, unregulated, and unreported trading hampering the sector. The present article highlights the concerns related to the above-mentioned encounters and suggests transparency should be ensured via proper mechanisms and legislative structures that will regulate fishery laws and policies.
ISSN:2583-3464 (Online)
Appears in Collections:IPRR Vol. 2 (1) [January-June 2023]
PDF Link:

(January-June 2023) Volume 2, Issue 1 | 9th October 2023
ISSN: 2583-3464 (Online)

The fishery sector contributes a significant role in national income and its growth in the recent past also witnessed impressive outcomes. However, the fishery trade is facing some prominent encounters in terms of illicit, unregulated, and unreported trading hampering the sector. The present article highlights the concerns related to the above-mentioned encounters and suggests transparency should be ensured via proper mechanisms and legislative structures that will regulate fishery laws and policies.


According to the National Fishing Development Board fishery is an economic activity that includes harvesting fish or any aquatic organism from the wild (Capture Fisheries) or raising them in confinement (Culture Fisheries/ Aquaculture). It may be Traditional/ Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) for sustenance, or Large-Scale/ Commercial Fisheries for profit. India is the second largest fish-producing country after China accounting for 7.56% of global production (Economic Survey 2021-22, pg. 279). It contributes about 1.24% to the country’s GVA (National Accounts, 2021-22) and over 7.28% to the agricultural GVA. Since 2014-15, the fisheries sector has witnessed a double-digit average annual growth of 10.87% (Economic Survey 2021-22, pg. 279) with fish production of 145 lakh tons in FY 2020-21 (provisional). The fishery sector ensures employment and livelihood to about 28 million people in India (Economic Survey, 2021-22, pp. 253), especially the marginalized and vulnerable communities. Illegal, unregulated, and unprotected fish trading is a common site these days that in turn adversely impacts ocean quality, livelihood, and economy in return.

Legal but Unregulated Trade

Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities in areas where there are no applicable management measures to regulate the catch; in India trade in one such endangered species of fish (Zebra Loach) that is endemic to the Western Ghats, particularly Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu. Due to their distinctive stripes, they are being traded in large quantities which is leading to their extinction and unsustainability. Moreover, they are good tank cleaners, peaceful species that can breed with multiple species without harming others, require less maintenance, and have a long lifespan. Due to these unique features, the global aquarium trade of Zebra Loach is being witnessed with Singapore (73.05%) being its major importer and Kolkata (58.75%) contributing to a major exit point from India. Trading of Zebra Loach is legal but unregulated, due to this loophole these species are on the verge of being extinct as maximum trade (60% approx.) is done during the breeding season which increases the risk of their extinction (Tapkir et al., 2021).

Figure 1: Spots where Zebra Loach fish are endemic in India

Source: Author’s creation based on data from Tapkir et al., (2021). Far from home: Tracking the global ornamental fish trade in endangered zebra loach, Botia striata, from freshwater ecoregion and biodiversity hotspot in India. Journal for Nature Conservation, 61.

Figure 2: Export of Zebra Loach in terms of quantity exported (tonnes) and value of export (Rs/Lakh) over the years

Source: Ministry of Commerce, GoI

Over the years from 1996 to 2017, there was an increase in the quantity and value of exports signaling towards proper maintenance and reporting of export cases as well as ensuring a check on the number of species being traded. During 2016-17, there was a tremendous increase in the value of export because of the introduction of various welfare measures introduced by GoI such as the introduction of the Blue Revolution that gave a boost to the fishery sector but after 2017, there has been a drastic decline in the export of Zebra Loaches raising concerns for its under-reporting and exploitation of species resulting in maximization of their profits. Thus, the impact of the blue revolution was short-lived. In order to make it sustainable, continuous advancements need to be made for the development of the fishery industry.

Illegal Trading

According to multilateral environmental agreements, illegal trade refers to the transboundary movement of species without the notification and consent of the concerned authorities and states. The Asia Pacific and the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa are the places where illegal fishing is causing the biggest revenue losses for local economies. In India, according to the PLFS (2021-22), the fishery sector provides livelihood to about 2.23 million of the total workforce out of which it comprises 81% of the male population and 19% of the female population making it a total of 33.2%.

Analyzing the composition and scope of the fishery sector, various training programs and workshops should be organized by the government that will provide skill enhancement to marginalized communities including women. But, illegal trading of fish is a rising concern that needs to be dealt with carefully otherwise, it will act as a roadblock in the livelihoods of around 33% of the population.

Various illegal activities are flourishing in the fishery sector such as the illegal catching of fish by fishermen by crossing borders because of their knowledge and skills to cross borders undetectably, maintaining friendly relations with the people who work at ports where vessels of catching fish are landed for illicit purposes so that fish stock can be exploited for unauthorized purposes such as money laundering, corruption and illegal trafficking that depletes the valuable fish stocks and threatens the sustainability of marine life, thus in return reduces the revenue for law-abiding fisherman and ensuring competitive edge to illegal businesses.

Unreported Trading

In the words of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), unreported fishing means fishing activities that have not been reported, or have been misreported by the vessels to the relevant national authority. There are numerous marine species that are endangered in India. Some of the endangered and threatened species according to the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) are Puntius Stoliczkanus, Raiamas Guttatus, Silonia Silondia, Botia striata, etc. The FAO remarked that unreported and illegal fishing is responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tons of fish each year, and estimated that 1 in every 5 fish caught, came from Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing. This unreported trading is also causing a threat to food security as 60% of the Indian population consumes fish (Shyam et al., 2013) with variation in consumption patterns depending upon the terrain where they are living and the type of activity in which they are engaged.

The annual per capita consumption of fish for the entire Indian population is estimated at 5-6 kg whereas for the fish-eating population, it is found to be 8-9 kg. Average annual per capita fish consumption is highest in Kerala state at 30 kg (Shyam et al., 2015). However, because of IUU activities in the fishing sector, Indian consumers are forced to buy fish from unhygienic markets and vendors. So, this issue needs to be addressed as despite being the second largest producers and self-sufficient in fish production Indian people have to depend on outside markets that can hinder the growth of the economy.

Channels of IUU Trading of Fish

There are three major channels of illicit trade in fish:

  • One of the major channels is via ship transshipments that include offloading catches from varied fishing boats at a common place and collecting them into large freezers and processing ships at sea that ensure proper and transparent accounting of the origin and authenticity of catches become illegal and impossible to trace.
  • The second loophole is in export mechanisms as to how seafood is transported, various traders use large refrigerators that are not subject to less reporting and inspection.
  • The third channel is the illegal supply of seafood in domestic markets that are export-dominated so the source of seafood can be recognized.

Figure 3: Various Channels of IUU trading of Fish

Source: Authors Creation

What all has been done?

The Fishery Sector is considered to be the “Sunrise Sector” due to its double-digit growth since 2014-15 and catering to the employment needs of about 28 million people. Fish is also considered to be a cheap source and affordable source of animal protein with numerous benefits and has the potential for future growth and positive contribution to the country’s GDP. Seeking these various initiatives, have been undertaken by the GoI to promote the fishery sector and Blue Revolution.

  1. On September 10th, 2020, Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) Yojana was launched with the highest total investment of about Rs. 20,050 crores. Under this, the focus was on the increasing area under inland fishery about 2,983 Ha., and the area under marine fisheries along with the development of fishermen by providing their boats and nets along with livelihood and nutritional support to 6,58,462 fishers’ families for conservation of fisheries resources during fishing ban/lean period and development of infrastructure in fishing and aquaculture.
  2. Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) was created with total funds size of Rs 7522.48 crore in order to provide concessional finance to the Eligible Entities (EEs), including State Governments/Union Territories and State entities for the development of identified fisheries infrastructure facilities through Nodal Loaning Entities (NLEs) namely (i) National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), (ii) National Cooperatives Development Corporation (NCDC) and (iii) All scheduled Banks.
  3. Under Atmanirbhar Bharat Package, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, announced a Rs. 2 lakh crore concessional credit boost to Rs. 2.5 crore farmers including fishers and fish farmers under the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) Scheme.

The Budget for 2023-24 also provides an encouraging and optimistic trend toward the development of the fishery sector as various initiatives were announced such as the development of 5 Major Fishing harbors as the hub of economic activities in the areas of Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Petuaghat that will increase the income of the fishermen. Various training sectors has been developed by state governments to provide training against various diseases and risk associated with the introduction of live aquatic animals.

Despite, several steps taken by GoI, risk and conspiracy associated with illegal, unreported, and unregulated trade cannot be eliminated.


  1. According to data from National Accounts Statistics there has been a considerable increase in the value of output of fishing and aquaculture from Rs. 80,10,453 lakh in 2011-12 to Rs. 1,59,09,495 lakh in 2020-21 predicting that this sector has a promising future so government should ensure proper mechanization for reporting illegal, unregulated and unreported activities so that authenticity and proper channel be ensured for trade in fishery sector and true motive of Blue Revolution can be maintained.
  2. Proper awareness campaigns and workshops should be organized with the local people and fishermen by educating them on the ill-effects of unregulated, unreported, and illegal fishing. So that they form a strong community against fraud and illegal businesses that exploit fish which will subsequently result in reducing unregulated and unreported fishing.
  3. Since illegal fishing is not considered a serious and heinous crime proper and strict legislation, regulations, and legal laws should be made in order to conserve our marine ecosystem.


Despite India being a maritime country that has wide water resources lying both in inland and marine sectors which are being utilized for capture and culture fisheries and offers a wide variety of biodiversity. Subsequent to that, illegal trade is also rising at an alarming rate, most of the fishermen engaged in illicit trade in order to get better returns and increase their standard of living. In order to eliminate this practice ensured returns at better and increased prices should be guaranteed to fishermen that will enhance their income and wealth impelling them to get rid of this vicious trap of illegal activities. Along with this, stricter laws should be implemented against illegal activities. To attain the socio-economic and well-being of marginalized fishermen via various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as SDG 2 and 3 that focus on zero hunger and good health, respectively, the government should catalyze its activities for the upliftment of the fishery sector as fish is considered to be the most nutritious and healthiest option to mitigate hunger and nutrition deficiency and can be used to eradicate hunger and provide good health as it is rightly said ‘Fish for Health and Fish for Wealth’.

Development in the fishery sector has trajectory growth trends that can help us achieve a blue, sustainable, and stable future and economy with the help of advancements in technology and better transportation facilities for export that are properly regulated via a transparent mechanism that can curb the menace of unreported and unregulated fishing trade. Moreover, illegal fishing is not considered a crime because it lacks the attention of the officials due to its nature not being understood by the authorities. In order to overcome this, a properly coordinated criminal force mechanism should be ensured with proper monitoring and scanning only then we can achieve ecologically healthy, economically viable, and socially inclusive development of the fisheries sector of India.


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