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Abstract: The Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of the fish stocks is assessed through exploratory surveys conducted in the Indian EEZ. This potential yield estimate provided the basis for development of fisheries including both traditional and modern fishing sectors in coastal and deep sea regions respectively. The Indian fisheries were exploited by small-scale fishermen until the 1950s. The introduction of trawling and a purse seining on large-scale during the second half of the twentieth century enabled India to increase the marine fish production to 2.9 million tonnes.

The present fleet strength of 228 758 fishing crafts consists of traditional craft (66 percent), motorized traditional crafts (17 percent) and mechanized boats (17 percent). The factors affecting the number and capacity of the fleet over the last two decades have been the magnitude of fish stocks, and fishing power of the vessels, profitability of each type of fleet and, in certain cases, the size of fishing gear. The fleet owners have diversified their fishing methods, with shrimpers and stern trawlers now fishing in the distant waters on resources such as deep sea demersals and tuna and allied fishes. There is also scope for diversification, especially for the shrimp trawlers, through shift fishing effort in the existing fishing grounds on to non-shrimp resources such as mackerel which are abundant on the same ground.

The indigenous fishing capacity is also reflected in the increased marine fish production over the years. India practices stratified random sample techniques in relation to space and time to collect and monitor the catches, landed by the indigenous fleet. The time series data on fish landing thus collected has enabled the assessment of the fish production and helped determining the optimum fleet size for each type of fishing crafts. There has been consensus on maintaining certain fishing fleet strength at the present level. In the case of deep sea fishing for demersal, midwater/pelagic and oceanic fish stocks, there is a need to upgrade the fishing capacity of larger crafts and introduce new generation vessels for tapping these resources.


India is one of the coastal nations that witnessed rapid development of marine fisheries in the post-EEZ era. As attendant responsibilities of a coastal State, India has been conducting exploratory surveys in the EEZ in order to determine the types of fish resources and their potential. Following the results of these surveys, there has been a renewed vigour in the introduction of new technologies and fishing methods in commercial sectors, and modernization of artisanal craft and fishing techniques. This provided impetus for horizontal and vertical expansion of fishing capacity. However the expansion of fishing areas has not been commensurate with the increase in capacity. The impact of this situation often manifests in the form of fluctuations in the coastal pelagic fish production. Nevertheless, India has made significant increases in marine fish production, achieving the seventh position among the fish producing nations of the world.


2.1 Maximum Sustainable Yield

During the 1950s, India's marine fishing was mainly exploited by artisanal fishermen as fisheries aimed at subsistence. Commercial fishing activities were also developed by introducing trawling and purse seining techniques. Intensive and extensive surveys were also undertaken to provide necessary estimates on the potential of fish stocks, and the findings of these surveys led to the recommendation of a development programme emphasizing mechanization of suitable indigenous crafts during the second half of the current century.

Fishery Survey of India, (FSI) an agency of the Government of India, has been responsible for surveys and assessment of the marine fishery potential of the Indian EEZ. The Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of the fish stocks from the Indian EEZ has been assessed as 3.9 million tonnes, which includes the demersal (1.93 million tonnes), pelagics (1.74 million tonnes) and oceanic (0.25 million tonnes) resources (Sudarsan et al., 1990). In contrast, the present marine fish production is only 2.9 million tonnes. The coastal zone (up to 50m depth), which holds an estimated potential production of 2.28 million tonnes, is experiencing fishing pressure by the operation of traditional and mechanized boats. The details of maximum sustainable yield and exploitation level of the resources in relation to depth zones are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Maximum Sustainable Yield level of exploitation and the depth wise potential available for exploitation within the Indian EEZ (in million tonnes)

Depth range (m)











1 933

Neretic pelagic





1 742

Oceanic pelagic








1 367



3 921






Level of exploitation






Available for exploitation





1 211

2.2 Marine fish production

The marine fish production registered a steady increase from 0.85 million tonnes in 1960 to 2.94 million tonnes in 1996 (Table 2). Motorization of the traditional crafts, introduction of mechanized boats in the traditional sector, diversification of fishing effort beyond 50 m depth, incorporation of new fishing technologies and development of purse-seining operation have resulted in the enhancement of the fish production over the years. The pelagic fisheries, such as oil sardine and mackerel fisheries, exhibit year-to-year fluctuations (Madhupratap et al,. 1994), mainly due to the oceanographic parameters.

Table 2. Marine fish production (million tonnes)













Source: MOA, 1996; FAO, 1999.


3.1 Growth and changes in the fishing capacity: Fleet types and strength

There are several major categories of fishing fleets that operate in the coastal inshore and offshore waters. These are the non-motorized traditional craft, motorized traditional craft and mechanized boats, the latter of which include trawlers, purse-seiners, gillnetters and longliners. The decades up to the seventies were mostly dominated by the traditional craft. However, motorization of traditional crafts and introduction of mechanized boats brought about rapid changes in the exploitation of the inshore and offshore resources, achieving remarkable increases in production. The present fleet strength of the different categories of boats is 228 758 (Table 3)[80], of which 190 857 are traditional craft (both non-motorized and motorized) and 37 901 mechanized boats (Devaraj, 1998).

Table 3. Changes in the types and number of craft, 1985-1995




· Traditional

168 891

190 857

· Non-motorized

161 963

151 554

· Motorized

6 928

39 303


26 733

37 901

· Trawlers

16 189

24 099

· Purse-seiners



· Others

9 966

13 338

In 1985, non-motorized traditional crafts constituted 96 percent of the total traditional crafts while motorized crafts were only four percent (Table 3). In 1995, the percentage of non-motorized crafts was reduced to 79 percent, with an increase of 21 percent in motorized craft. Similarly, there was a corresponding increase in the number of mechanized boats from 46 percent in 1985 to 54 percent in 1995. The twin initiatives of shifting a number of crafts from non-motorized to motorization and increase in the introduction of mechanized boats resulted an increase in the fishing capacity by extending the areas of operation well beyond the 50 m depth zone and up to 150 m depth. The areas below 50 m depth (corresponding to 12 nautical miles distance from the shore) have been left exclusively for the traditional and small mechanized sectors through the legislation. The initiative of organizing workshops and effort to create awareness among the fishers and fleet owners regarding deep sea resources, diversified techniques and use of electronic fish finding, navigation and communication equipment have been helping in bridging the gap between the expansion of fishing capacity and the limitations of the traditional fishing areas, with greater emphasis placed on encouraging deep sea fishing.

3.2 Capacity diversification

The magnitude of fish stocks and fishing power compared with the scale of profit of each type of fleet, and in certain cases the size of fishing gear, are the determining factors in limiting fishing capacity. In order to ease out the fishing pressure in specific areas as well as on some resources like shrimps, fleet owners have been encouraged to undertake diversified fishing by suitably converting their vessels. Free training is offered in specialized fishing for deep sea shrimp and lobsters, tuna longlining, etc., as an incentive to undertake diversification. The effort made by the Indian Government in establishing the deep sea fishing development during the past two decades by encouraging the fishers to undertake deep sea fishing has been a positive action towards sustainable development of the fisheries. At present, there are about 80 deep sea fishing vessels in operation. Some of these are being suitably modified to shift their fishing activity onto non-shrimp resources. A number of these shrimpers have also been converted to multipurpose fishing activities (Somvanshi, 1999), diversifying operation by migrating from shrimp grounds on the east coast to west coast for harvesting squids and cuttlefishes, deep sea shrimps and lobsters (MOA, 1996, MPEDA, 1996).

The application of advanced technology to increase marine productivity of outer shelf and high seas is yet to be undertaken, as it requires huge investment. Management measures such as controlling fishing effort through catch quota system or TACs is difficult in the open access system. A strict control of a number of fishing licences and fishing power of individual vessels will be useful and effective in the management of the resources.

3.3 Capacity for oceanic tuna fishing

The deep sea fishing schemes are expected to result in further increases in fish production from the oceanic region in the Indian EEZ. The schemes aim to familiarize the Indian fishers in oceanic fishing enterprises and skills. These schemes pertain to the charter of fishing vessels (1981) and joint venture and leasing foreign vessels (1991). The schemes implemented during the eighties and nineties provided necessary inputs in achieving these objectives. In 1990, the Indian Ocean tuna production reached a peak of 12 572 tonnes (Somvanshi and John, 1996). The details of the fishing fleet mainly tuna longliners and catches are given in Table 4.

Table 4. Oceanic tuna fishing capacity


No. of vessels

Catch (t)

GRT of chartered tuna longliners














1 953





















3 986







12 572







5 198







5 671







2 768







2 579





Some of the Indian fishers also acquired tuna longliners and contributed to the production of tuna and allied fishes, albeit in small quantities. The charter scheme was replaced in 1991 with schemes encouraging joint venture and leasing of foreign fishing vessels. Nevertheless, these schemes could not match the charter capacity, thereby creating a decline in the capacity for oceanic tuna resources exploitation. The exploratory survey results and the operation of chartered vessels have shown and proved that the Indian EEZ has considerable potential for tunas (0.25 million tonnes). India has therefore greater scope to build up oceanic resource fishing capacity in the new millennium.

3.4 Assessment of optimum fleet strength

The marine fishing capacity in the form of traditional motorized and mechanized boats is being assessed at institutional level. In one such exercise, the optimum fleet for different categories of crafts (CMFRI, 1998) was estimated (Table 5).

This is the first ever attempt to consider all the types of fleet for determining their optimum sizes. However, the optimum fleet size has to be linked with specific fisheries and the extent of distributional range of the fish stocks and the effective fishing zone. Another important aspect to be considered, along with environmental parameters which will have relevance to determine the fishing fleet strength, is the fact that the tropical conditions in which the majority of the stocks are prolific breeders and that the fisheries operate on zero to two year class strength of the fishes. The new millennium should focus on these aspects, undertaking necessary R&D activities and linking them with fleet strength and management measures need to be applied in the fishing practices in the seas around India.

Table 5. Estimated optimum fleet size

Fleet segment

Number of vessels


15 998

· Mechanized trawlers

12 245

· Purse seiners


· Mechanized gillnetters

3 972

· Mechanized bagnetters

2 193

· Other mechanized boats

1 683


2 0928

· Outboard bagnets


· Outboard gillnetters

10 746

· Outboard ring-seiners

1 302

· Outboard dol-neters


· Outboard other boats

3 465


31 058


67 984


The Ministry of Agriculture is the agency that collects, collates and monitors the fish catches and fishing fleets through the provincial governments, fisheries departments and the central institutions like Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and Fishery Survey of India (FSI). A stratified random sampling involving the clusters of the landing centres and days for enumeration developed by the CMFRI is used for collecting catch and effort data and other relevant information. Information on the fishing crafts and gear is collected through a census by the central and state agencies, which are updated from time to time. At the national level, capacity limitation in certain fisheries was exercised by imposing bans. For example, in the shrimp fishery, acquiring outrigger shrimp trawlers during the eighties was prohibited.

The Marine Fisheries Regulation Act (MFRA) by the maritime provincial government and the deep sea fishing schemes, as provided under the Maritime Zones of India (operation of foreign fishing vessels) Act 1981 of the Government of India, provide for prohibition of fishing by larger vessels in the areas earmarked for the traditional and small motorized crafts, shrimp and lobster grounds, and marine reserves/parks. Also, these Acts allow the imposition of bans on fishing during the monsoon season, thereby providing respite to the brooders and ensuring recruitment to the stocks. There have been also mesh size regulations provided under the provincial Acts and national legislation with reference to the specific gears and use of explosives and dynamites is prohibited. For monitoring the fishing activities to be carried out in different assigned fishing zones by respective fleets, petrol boats are provided to the fisheries department of the maritime States. The resources monitoring surveys conducted by the FSI are being linked with the management measures to be evolved and applied for sustainable development of fisheries.


India has registered a rapid developmental phase in marine fisheries during the second half of the twentieth century, achieving a current annual marine fish production of 2.94 million tonnes from the Indian EEZ. Mechanization of the indigenous crafts, introduction of commercial fishing techniques, and launching of deep sea fishing schemes were the main factors responsible for achieving the present level of fishing capacity and fish production.

The industry also experienced upheaval during the mid-eighties due to over-dependence on large trawlers in the North East Coast on shrimp stocks. Nevertheless, the experience triggered the acceptance of diversified fishing by the fishers for non-shrimp resources and catalyzed the idea of shifting fishing activity in the same region and transferring effort to distant areas. In the small and medium mechanized sectors, diversification from stern trawling operation to purse seining and longlining was found acceptable to the fishers. Thus, the fishing capacity is still within the range of sustainable fisheries considering the distributional expanse and potential of fish stocks in the Indian EEZ. However, there is consensus at National level that the strength of the mechanized fleet should be maintained at the present level. The efforts are on for providing modern electronic equipments such as echosounders, fishfinders, GPS and communication equipment etc. to the larger boats among the mechanized fleet so that these boats will be able to undertake fishing in distant and deeper waters for the deep sea and oceanic resources identified and their magnitude determined through the exploratory surveys.


CMFRI, 1998. Annual Report, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute: Kochi. 151 pp.

Devaraj, M. 1998. Sustained development of marine fisheries and mariculture in India. In: Qasim, S.Z. and Roonwal, G.S. (Eds), Living Resources of India's Exclusive Economic Zone. Society for Indian Ocean Studies, Omega Scientific Publishers: New Delhi. pp. 50-64.

FAO. 1999. FAO Yearbook of Fishery Statistics, 1997. Rome, FAO. 703 pp.

Madhupratap, M., Shetye, S.R., Nair, K.N.V. & Nair, S.R. 1994. Oil Sardine and Indian mackerel: their fishery problems and coastal oceanography. Curr. Sci. 66(5): pp. 340-348.

MOA, 1996. Handbook on Fisheries Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture. New Delhi. 217 pp.

MPEDA, 1996. Statistics of Marine Products Exports, Marine Products Export Development Authority. Kochi. 388 pp.

Somvanshi, V.S. 1999. Resource Potential and Conservation Measures in Capture Fisheries. Seafood Export Journal 30(3): pp. 25-39.

Somvanshi, V.S. & John, M.E. 1996. The Oceanic Tuna Fishery in India - An update In: Proceedings of the Sixth Expert Consultation on Indian Ocean Tunas, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 25-29 September 1995. IPTP Collective Volume 9: pp. 1-5.

Sudarsan, D., John, M.E. & Somvanshi, V.S. 1990. Marine Fishery Potential in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone - An update. Bull. Fish. Surv. India, 20: pp.1-27.

[79] Fishery Survey of India, Botawala Chambers, Sir P.M. Road, Mumbai - 400 001.
[80] The records of the Ministry of Agriculture indicate a total fleet size of 238 125 fishing boats (MOA, 1996), although some of these can not be classified

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