Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Country review: India (West coast)

Gary Morgan
FAO Consultant, Fishery Policy and Planning Division, Fisheries Department
September 2004


The information in this review, which covers the west coast of India, has benefited from the prior manuscript of Flewwelling and Hosch (2006) of this report which presented information on fisheries management for the East Coast of India. Predictably, data on management and the legal framework at the national level is similar between the two areas and therefore such information has been sourced from their manuscript. Their excellent summary of these matters is gratefully acknowledged. Appropriate additions, deletions, explanations and other changes have been made to make national information relevant to west coast situations. Specific data on management and other arrangements on the west coast, including any errors, are my responsibility.

India is one of the largest countries in the world, with a combined coastline of 8 041 km in length, and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 2.02 million km2.[265] With a land area of 3.3 million km2, India is referred to as a sub-continent in its own right. India borders Pakistan in the north-west, China in the north, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar to the north-east. The Ganges drains a substantial part of India’s northern states, and drains into the Bay of Bengal after passing Calcutta, not far from the border with Bangladesh.

The population was estimated to be 1.03 billion people in 2002 with 28 percent of the population living in urban centres. 29 percent of the people live under the national poverty line.[266] 360 million live in coastal areas, and 6.7 million are fishermen, including, full-time, part-time and occasional fishermen (Vivekanandan, 2002). About 2.4 million are employed full-time in marine capture fisheries (Flewwelling, 2000). Fishing communities generally rank amongst the poorest in India. Just over one third of full-time fishermen are located on India’s east coast, while two thirds of fishermen and 70 percent of marine fish production originates from the west coast.

India’s economy has shown good long-term growth, with an average growth rate of 5.6 percent for the decade leading up to 1992, and 6.1 percent during the decade to 2002. The structure of the economy has changed over the last 20 years, with the agriculture contribution to GDP (including fisheries) falling from over one third in 1982 to only one quarter in 2002, and the service sector growing from 37.2 percent in 1982, to 49.2 percent in 2002. Exports of marine products have quadrupled during the last 20 years, growing from US$313 million in 1982 to US$1.2 billion in 2002.[267]

There are marked oceanographic differences between east and west coasts of India, with the prolific monsoon-driven upwelling system being found along India’s west coast.[268] As a result of this upwelling and the generally greater primary production in west coast areas, fisheries production in this area dominates the national production, with approximately 70 percent of total landings being taken in the west coast states.

The states of Kerala in the southwest and Gujarat in the northwest dominate landings with around 30 percent of west coast production originating in Kerala and 37 percent in Gujarat. The other west coast states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, in addition to offshore Islands contribute the remaining 33 percent of west coast production.

This level of production from India’s west coast makes India by far the largest fish producer in the western Indian Ocean, contributing over 46 percent of total production from this area.


India has adopted a policy of developing its own fisheries resources for local consumption, both in its offshore and inshore fisheries. As a result, and unlike most other developing countries, India has never signed a fisheries access agreement with a distant water fishing nation (DWFN), and has persisted for decades in its attempts to develop its own offshore industrial fisheries by nationally-owned interests. Despite proceeding with national development of its offshore fisheries, India’s inshore fisheries have always been the most important sub-sector, both in terms of catch and numbers of people depending on the fisheries.

The primary national goal for fisheries is to increase per capita availability of fish from the current level of around 5 kg/year to around 11 kg/year. To achieve this, State and Government policy focuses on developing fisheries at all levels, with the aim to sustain or increase production and to guarantee continued growth of the sector. Modernization of the fleet and upgrading of infrastructure receives attention through subsidies, although amounts are modest and one-time payments. This production-oriented focus applies especially to the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture and related Departments responsible for capture fisheries, at both Union and State levels, with significant variations across States and Union territories.

India is one of the world leaders in terms of establishing associations and societies formed by fishing communities, workers, and other interests related to the sector. These organizations develop and defend positions, publish findings, and influence authorities on policy formulation and management options.[269] Government encourages the formation of associations in all sectors (aquaculture, inland fisheries, mariculture, coastal fishing, offshore fishing, etc.) in order to put in place an enabling framework to engage in discussions with stakeholders, to receive realistic reports of field activities, constructive recommendations for strategy and policy formulation, and to receive feedback on government proposals.

Coastal Fishing Policy

Coastal Fishing[270] Policy is defined by an open access regime, which has given rise to a sector with many entrants exploiting coastal marine resources to, and beyond, their full potential. The current legal framework provides for conflict minimization between traditional and industrial sub-sectors, with little emphasis on sustainable management of the resources.[271] Conflict resolution at the village level through traditional village social mechanisms are also important factors in contributing to stakeholder involvement in fisheries management issues.

Both National and State Governments have initiated a range of schemes that aim to develop and modernize the traditional inshore sector. Modernization focuses on improvements to: a) types of fishing craft used, replacing old and heavy materials with newer, more durable and lighter ones, b) materials used in fishing gears, such as nets, and c) motorization and mechanization[272] of the fleet.

Vivekanandan (2002) lists five separate, centrally-funded programmes to develop coastal marine fisheries. It must be noted though, that the scope of these programmes are subject to budget constraints, and may not necessarily represent significantly large programmes or programmes that are undertaken on a continuous basis. These programmes are:

In addition to this, Government supports the construction of major and minor fishing ports, bearing all the costs of major developments, and entering cost-sharing arrangements with State Governments for smaller projects. Welfare of coastal fishing communities is one of the objectives of fisheries development. Attention is also directed at the post-harvest sector through programmes to strengthen fish marketing infrastructure. This included facilitating the acquisition of cooling vans, cold storage, ice plants, bicycles, etc.[274]

Coastal Fishing Policy is thus production and export oriented and under the control of State Governments with support from the National/Union Government.

Deep Sea Fishing Policy

Deep Sea Fishing Policy is the responsibility of, and developed by the Union Government.[275] Since the declaration of its EEZ in 1976, the intent was for India to develop its own deep sea fishing capacity. This was attempted through a series of joint ventures that have not been particularly successful. Once again the focus of the deep-sea fisheries policy was increased production. The first deep-sea policy was announced by Government in 1977, providing for chartering arrangements with foreign operators. The 1981 Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act requires 60 percent of capital to be held by Indian citizens in joint venture companies, and an obligation to train Indian fishermen. A newer Deep Sea Fishing Policy was developed in 1986, and was revised again in 1991.[276] This policy was rescinded by the Government in September 1996, under pressure of the National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), highlighting serious conflicts between the domestic small-scale and industrial joint venture fleets.[277]

In late 2002, a new set of Guidelines for deep-sea fishing was announced by the Government. The focus now lies on the registration status of vessels, rather than mode of acquisition of vessels under charter arrangements and joint ventures - as the earlier policies did. In combination with new legislation on foreign investments, fishing companies with 100 percent foreign-owned capital can now register as Indian companies, register vessels and fly the Indian flag.[278],[279]

Under the new 21-point Guideline there are no obligations to land catch in India, to train Indian crews, and to pay license fees commensurate with the value of targeted catches. Therefore, potential benefits for the economy and fishing interests of India remain completely indistinguishable (Mathew, 2003). Further, the Guidelines do not represent India’s new deep-sea fishing policy which has been under development since 1996.[280] This policy is not yet effective, and awaits formal Government acceptance of the Gopakumar Committee Report. This means that by the end of 2003, the deep-sea fishing sector has been evolving in a policy vacuum for more than seven years.[281]

In summary, fisheries policies in India have been developed with few linkages between the sectors, based on dated and fragmented legislation at the National and State level, and has generally focused on increased production with little emphasis on conservation, sustainability or responsible fisheries management.


The various facets of marine capture fisheries and marine habitat fall under the responsibility of several agencies and Ministries, at both the Union Government and State levels. Items on List I (Union List) are dealt with by the Union Government, and items on List II are dealt with by State Governments. List III contains a list of items which fall under the shared responsibility of both the Union Government and the States (Concurrent List), and both the Indian Parliament and the State Legislatures have power to pass laws regarding these items. The Lists are enshrined in the Constitution of India. Table 1 provides a summary overview of core items related to marine capture fisheries, presenting the agencies/Ministries responsible for legislating and implementation.

Selection of items related to marine capture fisheries, and legislative competence



· Deep Sea fishing (List I)
· Survey & assessment of fisheries resources
· Research
· Training & extension
· Aquaculture development

Ministry of Agriculture /
Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying

· Monitoring of fishing by foreign vessels (List I)
· Prevention of marine pollution by ships
· Protection of endangered species (Wildlife Protection Act, 1972)

Ministry of Defence /
Coast Guard

· Fish processing
· Processing units

Ministry of Food Processing

· Seafood exports (List I)
· Quality control

Ministry of Commerce & Industry /

Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA)

Export Inspection Council (EIC)

· Law of the Sea negotiations (List I)

Ministry of External Affairs

· Potential fishing zones
· Monitoring ocean pollution

Department of Ocean Development (DoD)

· Fishing vessel industry (List I)
· Major fishing ports (List I)
· Minor fishing ports (List II)

Ministry of Shipping

· Aquaculture in territorial waters (List II)
· Fisheries in territorial waters (List II)

State Government /
Department of Fisheries

· Protection of marine biodiversity (List III)
· Protection of coastal habitats (List III)
· Focal point for Ramsar, CITES, CMS & CBD Conventions (List III)

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)

There are no legal provisions in place below State level to legislate for fisheries management at the local level. As noted in Matthew (2003), the sharing system is the norm in India as opposed to wages, but the traditional sharing system in some parts of India is unique in that it can include all members of a fishing crew, whether or not they fish, widows of former crew members lost while fishing and even down to the village barber. This is a traditional management sharing system that is not common in other countries[282].

The current legal framework for fisheries hinges on a series of Acts that do not directly deal with, or simply fail to mention the sustainable management of fisheries resources proper. In actual fact, the only Indian legislation mentioning “undertaking measures for the conservation and management of offshore and deep-sea fisheries” is the Marine Products Export Development Authority Act of 1972 (Mathew, 2003).[283] Although the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Maritime Zones Act that followed in 1976 recognizes the sovereign rights to conservation and management of living resources in the Indian EEZ, in addition to their exploration and exploitation, [284] as well as providing the Central Government with the power to legislate for the conservation and management of the marine living resources within the EEZ,[285] the ensuing Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act of 1981, and its regulations of 1982,[286] fail to bring up conservation or management of fisheries resources altogether (Mathew, 2003).

Since maritime States are responsible for marine fisheries legislation within the territorial sea[287] (List II item; see Table 1), States proceeded to develop their own Maritime Fishing Regulation Acts and Regulations.[288] The driving force behind these Acts was the rising number of serious conflicts between artisanal fishermen and trawlers. The ensuing Acts and Regulations focused principally on provisions enabling the regulating of fishing vessel operations and movements in the territorial sea, aiming at protecting traditional fishermen, and maintaining law and order. This legislation failed to provide for limited access, effective legal action against infringements, and inter-State vessel movements (Mathew, 2003).

As an example, the Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation Act provides powers for restricting the numbers of vessels, restricting operational areas, separating traditional fishermen from larger vessels by allocating specific fishing areas (inshore and offshore) for the two sectors and various other measures to address conflict resolution issues. It does not address the issue of sustainable management of fisheries. Some Acts also left fisheries officers with discretionary powers in granting fishing licenses for motorized vessel owners and assigning areas of operation.[289] Under this system of Union Acts, State Acts and Regulations, legislative frameworks for production have evolved, but the sustainable management of specific fisheries has not been developed.

The absence of such supporting fisheries management legislation leaves the executive arms of Ministries and Departments at Union and State levels in a considerable legal void, when it comes to the planning and implementing of responsible fisheries management activities.

Traditional social measures at the village level exist for consultation on fisheries issues, and the involvement of stakeholders in the management process. The importance of these traditional consultative mechanisms (which also extend to dispute resolution) have probably been under-estimated in an attempt to move towards a more centralized fisheries management arrangement at the national and State level. Co-management arrangements are being actively discussed (Kurien, 1999), and partly applied, even if not formally enshrined in the law.[290] It is also reported that more than 2/3 of fisheries are managed in some way. Input controls are part of legislation, but the effectiveness of implementation is subject to debate. Some of the more important fisheries that remain in need of management efforts include shark and sea cucumber fisheries.[291]

In summary, both formal and traditional mechanisms for consultation and conflict resolution are in place; fisheries management is devolved to State control within territorial seas, and Union control outside territorial seas; legislation focuses on production, and sustainable fisheries management principles are not yet fully included in the fisheries laws.


The west coast of India is by far the most important area so far as fisheries production is concerned, accounting for over 70 percent of national production. This is a result of both major upwelling areas in the southwest and productive, shallow-water demersal resources in the north-west.

Gujarat State in the north-west has, for some years, been the major fish producer in India, and, in 2001, accounted for around 37 percent of west coast production and 26 percent of national production. Gujarat is closely followed by Kerala in the south-west which, in 2001, contributed around 30 percent of national production. The other west coast states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, in addition to offshore Islands contribute the remaining 33 percent of west coast production.

The Lakshadweep Islands, which extend into the Arabian Sea, and have a continental shelf of 4 340 km2, have average annual landings of around 4 400 t. The island ecosystem is unique, with various species of tuna accounting for 70 percent of the landings.

The Kerala Coast in southwest India experiences significant upwelling during the southwest monsoon period (June to September), resulting in abundant phytoplankton and zooplankton. Consequently, the fisheries in this area are dominated by small pelagics (49.7 percent of total landings) such as sardines, whitebait and Indian mackerel. On the other hand, the Saurashtra coast in the northwest experiences winter cooling of oceanic waters during November-February with no significant upwelling and consequently the fisheries in this area are dominated by demersal species (57.2 percent of landings) such as sciaenids, flatfish, ribbonfish etc.

The fisheries of the west coast of India can be conveniently divided into both artisanal and industrial sectors as well as inshore (<50 meters) and offshore fisheries. Artisanal fisheries dominate the inshore areas while industrial fishing dominates the offshore area, usually operating under the provisions of the Deep Sea Fishing Policy[292].

Managing fisheries in accordance with sustainability guidelines is not required by legislation either at the State or National/Union level. As a result, many stocks both in the inshore and offshore area are either fully- or over-exploited although it is generally agreed that offshore areas are more lightly exploited and may, for some species, be under-exploited[293]. Offshore species which are considered to have the greatest potential for increases in exploitation rates are various species of tuna, threadfin bream, carangids and deepwater shrimp (Vivekanandan, 2002). However, sustainability issues are often considered in framing fisheries regulations in the area. As an example, declining shrimp catches in Kerala in the 1980s resulted in various committees being established by the State Government to examine the problem (Kurup, 2001). The result was a ban on trawling throughout Kerala during the monsoon period each year; although the ban was partly a response to conflict resolution issues as larger vessels were increasingly fishing during the normally observed non-fishing season.

Marine pollution and coastal degradation has impacted on resources in the coastal areas (including estuaries)[294] and has degraded the marine resource potential and marine biodiversity of these areas. As a result, the issues of overexploitation of many coastal fisheries resources have been becoming more important, even in areas where the number of fishermen and vessels has remained stable. However, within the context of marine and coastal eco-system destruction in the Indian Ocean area, over-exploitation of fisheries resources and coastal habitat destruction is not as much a problem in India as it is in other countries of the region[295].

Total fish production from the west coast area of India in 2001 was 1.996 million tonnes with this level of production having been maintained for some years. Table 2 provides data on the catches, by species group, for the period 1998-2001 for the west coast area of India in addition to similar data for 1980.

Table 2 highlights several issues, both with the reliability of production statistics in measuring landings in India and also with changes in the species composition of landings over time.

Reported Fisheries landings (in metric tons) by Species for India’s West Coast Fisheries, 1980 and 1998-2001






Anchovies, etc. nei

40 025

68 487

54 308

54 987

64 249

Barracudas nei


9 903

9 926




114 855

144 774

146 591

133 156

142 944

Brown seaweeds

16 000

16 000

16 000

16 000

Butterfishes, pomfrets nei

37 143

15 200

14 897

10 417

8 093

Carangids nei

4 336

21 426

22 589

5 679

5 909

Cephalopods nei

10 954

86 337

84 793

85 939

103 903

Clupeoids nei

14 442

70 487

63 435

36 678

32 823

Croakers, drums nei

93 643

233 160

280 556

235 744

214 665

False trevally

4 368

7 995

5 503

4 623

5 992

Flatfishes nei

9 178

17 460

12 840

24 709

11 271

Flyingfishes nei






Frigate and bullet tunas

6 152

12 722

13 101

7 031

Giant tiger prawn

167 904

168 942

145 857

136 443


5 363

7 061

7 186

8 457

14 748

Green seaweeds

60 000

60 000

60 000

60 000

Hairtails, scabbardfishes nei

38 829

58 595

92 334

100 570

93 970

Halfbeaks nei


1 312

1 928

1 650

1 474

Indian mackerel

40 455

142 669

138 086

62 026

29 938

Indian oil sardine

157 881

110 288

122 254

277 842

287 628

Indo-Pacific king mackerel

13 965

12 003

13 150

43 112

Indo-Pacific sailfish


Jacks, crevalles nei

7 622

52 315

51 741

22 808

31 418


12 376

16 757

17 255


Kelee shad

7 138

3 077

3 076

3 896

6 458

Lizardfishes nei

9 329

12 012

11 539

4 029

2 671

Longtail tuna

3 805

2 275

2 342


Marine crabs nei



6 193

8 009

Marine crustaceans nei

11 070

12 658

11 272

11 047

8 853

Marine fishes nei

108 463

264 758

288 658

293 193

335 781

Marine molluscs nei

2 718

1 217



Marlins, sailfishes, etc. nei

1 557

1 188

1 303


Mullets nei

2 585

5 760

6 104

6 799

6 004

Narrow-barred Spanish mackerel

19 921

17 123

18 759

27 650

Natantian decapods nei

209 003

97 570

90 957

90 734

86 882

Percoids nei

19 800

52 230

53 600

58 297

40 053

Pike-congers nei

17 198

5 820

5 414

5 236

4 831

Pompanos nei

2 533

2 329



Ponyfishes (=Slipmouths) nei

8 878

9 115

8 934

4 551

6 951

Red seaweeds

24 000

24 000

24 000

24 000

Sea catfishes nei

36 147

36 082

38 432

31 467

45 850

Sea squirts nei


Seerfishes nei

19 391

Sharks, rays, skates, etc. nei

26 810

33 418

34 088

37 060

34 036

Skipjack tuna


5 707

5 878

21 789

Streaked seerfish




Threadfins, tasselfishes nei

1 958

1 544

2 780

2 243

2 817

Tuna-like fishes nei

18 884

4 931

Unicorn cod


1 113


1 123

2 095





Wolf-herrings nei

10 539

10 201

4 663

6 813

10 038

Yellowfin tuna

2 772

1 547

1 596

7 324


1 088 360

1 932 799

2 011 318

1 948 678

1 996 206

nei = not elsewhere included
Source: (FAO 2003)

First, most fisheries statistics in India are collected at landing places although species that are destined for export are recorded at the point of sale or export. Hence aquaculture production is sometimes incorporated into landings statistics, particularly for those species that are exported. In addition, consumption at home, which may be significant, is often not included in statistics collection. As a result, the production statistics outlined in Table 2 should be treated with some caution. Therefore, a significant part of the increase in reported landings for the west coast of India between 1980 and the late 1990s was a large increase in the landings of giant tiger prawn (Peneaus monodon). This species actually comprises a very small proportion of wild capture landings[296] although culture of P. monodon has increased significantly in the area in the past two decades. Therefore, it is likely that the reported ‘landings’ are actually aquaculture production.

Despite these problems, some trends are apparent in that most marine species have shown a general increase in landings, particularly cephalopods and ‘other marine fish’. This is no doubt a reflection of the growing importance of offshore fisheries. By contrast, natantian decapods (mainly lobster) have declined significantly. However, overall, landings have shown strong growth, almost doubling in the 21 years between 1980 and 2001.

The reason for this increase in production is almost exclusively an increase in fishing effort, both in inshore areas and offshore. For example, coastal fisheries in Kerala have witnessed an increase in fishing effort between from 5 230 mechanized vessels in 1977 to 17 102 by 2001 (Kurup, 2001). In addition, 27 899 non-motorized vessels operated within the 60 m depth zone in 2001. Similarly, in Gujarat, the fishing fleet has increased to 29 506 vessels in 2002, 19 092 of which are mechanized[297].

Most fisheries production from the west coast of India is derived from the mechanized sector[298] with 95 percent of landings coming from this sector in Kerala in 2001 (Kurup, 2001). The contribution from the traditional, non-motorized or non-mechanized sector is rapidly declining and, in 2001, represented less than five percent of the total landings in Kerala.

Methods of exploitation of marine fisheries resources vary from simple traps to large trawlers and from handlines to modern purse-seiners. There are also regional variation in fishing vessels and gear. Traditional catamarans, common on the east coast are not used on the west coast to any great extent, with dugout canoes being the more common traditional fishing craft.

Mechanized vessels include stern and outrigger trawlers, gillnetters, purse-seiners, longliners and dol-netters (bag nets, mainly for Bombay duck) whereas traditional non-mechanized craft use handlines, gillnets and fish traps. There is a program in place to upgrade dugout canoes in the area by the addition of small outboard motors and, since 1977, 50 922 motors have been fitted to these traditional craft (Vivekanandan, 2002)

The three largest fisheries on the west coast of India (Table 2) are Indian Oil sardine, Bombay duck and shrimp or prawn fisheries. The characteristics of these fisheries are shown in Table 3.

Characteristics of the three largest, marine fisheries (by volume) of India’s West Coast in 2001

Category of


(Est. in


% of Total

% of Total

Covered by a

# of Participants

# of Vessels



287 628

431 m




49 000

4 200(2)


142 944

172 m




13 500

1 700


136 433

1.36 b




45 000

8 200

Note: Fisheries are the Indian Oil Sardine (Sardine), Bombay Duck (BD) and the prawn, or shrimp, fisheries (prawn).

* Estimated Value in 2002 U.S. Dollars.

1. The largest fisheries on the west coast are combined artisanal and commercial/industrial fisheries.

2. Includes approximately 280 purse seiners. Beach seines, operated from shore are not included in the estimated number of vessels but are included in the estimated number of participants.

The Indian Oil sardine (Sardinella longipes) fishery occurs both on the west coast and east coast of India although it is concentrated in large shoals along the south west coast of Kerala and Mysore. Fishing begins on the 0+ age group (100-140 mm) early in the season (July-August) and is concentrated on this group throughout the rest of the year. 1+ fish (150-170 mm) taken later in the season (January-February) also contribute significantly to the overall catch whereas 2+ fish only comprise a minor part of the catch.

The fishery, which in 2001 landed 288 000 t from the west coast (Table 2) is a mixed artisanal/industrial fishery and utilizes dugout canoes (Kerala coast), out-rigger vessels (Maharashtra and Karnataka coasts) and purse seiners (offshore areas) to take the fish. However, the bulk of the catch is taken in shallow waters between the shoreline and 15 meters depth. Gillnets (both drift and set nets) and shore seines in addition to a variety of small and large vessel seine nets are the most commonly used gears with the shore seine being an important part of the artisanal fishery. Mesh sizes currently in use for seine nets for Indian oil sardine range between 14 mm and 66 mm although mesh sizes are not regulated.

Most of the catch is locally consumed as fresh product although canning, freezing, drying, and production of sardine oil is also undertaken.

The fishery fluctuates significantly from year to year in response to oceanic conditions and particularly the abundance of phytoplankton blooms (Fragillaria oceanica, Coscinodiscus spp and Pleurosigma spp). There also appears to be an inverse relationship between the abundance of the Indian oil sardine and Indian mackerel Rastelliger kanagurta, the basis of which is not yet fully understood.

Because the fishery appears to be driven more by oceanic conditions and the abundance of plankton blooms (which are, in turn, a result of the extent of upwelling on the south west coast), there has been little concern expressed as to the status of the stocks despite rising fishing effort levels. This is supported to some extent by landings which, although showing wide year-to-year fluctuations, have not trended downwards as fishing effort has increased.

The fishery for Bombay Duck (Harpodon nehereus) contributes around ten percent of the average national landings and, in 2001, 143 000 t were landed in the west coast States (Table 2). The species has a wide, and discontinuous, distribution along both east and west coasts of India although the north west coastal States of Gujarat and Maharashtra contribute the greatest catches. Given the discontinuous distribution, a priority for management and research has been to determine whether the east and west coasts stocks are separate or consist of a single stock[299].

Fishing methods used to take Bombay duck vary between regions. In Saurashtra, about 400-500 vessels operate ‘dol’ nets in coastal waters 6-12 miles offshore whereas in Gujarat the majority of the catch is taken by gillnets (30 ft long with a mesh size of 1 inch) operated in inshore coastal waters between June and September. Most of the catch is sun-dried although a small quantity is sold fresh or is ‘laminated’ by pressing and drying.

The status of the stock(s) of Bombay duck is uncertain, although landings on the west coast seem to have stabilized at around 140 000 t, a slight increase on the landings in 1980 (Table 2). Spawning and recruitment appear more or less continuous on the west coast, although peaking during the monsoon period between September and December.

The prawn, or shrimp, fisheries of the west coast of India target a large number of both penaeid and non-penaeid species. In Kerala in the south west and along the west coast, Penaeus indicus, P. monodon, Metapenaeus dobsoni, M. monoceros, M.affinis, Parapenaeopsis stylifera, P. sculptillis and P.hardwickii are the major contributors to the catch with the species mix being dependent both on location and on the seasonal monsoons in coastal waters. Following the monsoon period (from November onwards), landings of M. dobsoni, M. monoceros, M. affinis, P. stylifera, P. sculptillis and P. hardwickii tend to be the main components of the catch whereas P. indicus and P. monodon are found throughout the year, particularly in the backwaters and estuary fisheries. As noted above, P. monodon is only a minor proportion of the total landings (probably less than one percent[300]), despite the official landings statistics.

Non-penaeid prawn fisheries dominate the more northern areas of the west coast with Gujarat and Maharashtra States accounting for the bulk of the annual landings of around 125 000 t in 2001[301]. Acetes spp account for 74 percent of the landings; while Nematopalaemon tenuipes account for a further 25 percent. Exhippolysmata ensirostris made up the remainder of the landings. These landings have shown a steady increase from about 1961, rising from approximately 20 000 t per annum at that time to 80-100 000 t per annum during the 1990s to the current levels of around 120 000 t.

Most prawn fisheries on the west coast are subject to exploitation throughout their lifecycle, with large, traditional fisheries for juveniles occurring in the backwaters and estuaries of Kerala and other States and both traditional and large mechanized trawl fisheries for adults in offshore waters.

Fisheries in the backwaters and estuaries tend to be undertaken throughout the year whereas the marine coastal fishery is seasonal with a regulated, variable closed season during the monsoon period (Kurup, 2001).

Assessments of the stocks of the major species comprising the prawn fisheries of the west coast have been undertaken periodically with the general conclusion that stocks generally are over-exploited with fishing capacity being too high and prawns being taken at sub-optimal sizes, mainly as a result of the fishery for juveniles in the backwaters. However, the small prawns that are taken in the backwater fisheries provide much of the local supply of prawns to the market since the larger sizes (often taken by offshore trawling) are increasingly being packed and exported. Kurup (2001) showed the beneficial effect on landings and catch rates of the closed season for trawling that was introduced in 1988.


Management of inshore fisheries on the west coast of India is the responsibility of State Governments, usually operating through State Fisheries Departments and with specific State-based legislation. Offshore fisheries management is the responsibility of the national or Union Government[302]. As a result, management activity varies both between States and between offshore and coastal jurisdictions. However, as noted above, the primary focus of management activity in all cases is not so much the sustainable management of resources but the development of the fishing industry and conflict resolution between competing user groups. As a result of this focus, management activity and enforcement of regulations is not well developed, given the size of the fisheries involved.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, which also functions as the national focal point for a number of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 1973 (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992 (CBD), is gradually introducing measures for the protection and management of marine resources (Mathew, 2003).[303] This stands in contrast with the production and growth oriented policies pursued by the Ministry of Agriculture, other Union ministries and State departments and agencies dealing directly with fisheries. This clearly symbolizes a step forward in terms of legislating for the sustainable management of fisheries resources.

As an example of the focus of State fisheries legislation, and in an effort to develop fisheries in coastal area of Gujarat, the State Government implemented the new Gujarat Fisheries Act in 2003. Under the Act, registration of vessels has been made compulsory, as has registration of ancillary industries such as boat building, processing plants, ice factories etc. However, the Act still does not explicitly address the key issues of sustainable management of the resources.

Perhaps the most important specific management activity related to sustaining fisheries on the west coast was the introduction, in 1988, of a variable closed season for trawling. Kurup (2001) showed that enforcement of this compulsory trawling ban of between 22 and 70 days during the monsoon period in Kerala has had a beneficial effect on both total trawl landings and catch rates. In addition, the trawl ban has resulted in an increase in average sizes of most captured species, including Parapenaeopsis stylifera and Metapenaeus dobsoni.

A number of management measures aimed at sustainable fisheries are, however, under discussion. For example, in an effort to overcome the problems of declining coastal productivity and declining marine biodiversity in coastal areas as a result of coastal environmental degradation and marine pollution, it is planned to develop technologies and implement pilot projects to increase the productivity of India’s coastal areas selectively, mainly by sea ranching and mariculture[304].

Measures have also been taken to introduce resource-specific fishing vessels for deep-sea oceanic fisheries and, in addition, the concept of no-fishing zones in open waters is gaining importance in several regions of the west coast of India (Vivekanandan, 2002).

National fisheries institutions often support the activities of coastal management authorities. For example, the Fisheries Survey of India (FSI) has been operating for years, and is responsible for mapping and assessing the extent of fish stocks. However, activities are troubled by budget limitations. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Kochi, is among a number of Institutes tasked with fisheries research. The CMFRI is tasked with collection and analysis of national catch and landing data.[305] These are all linked to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

In terms of enforcement, it is to be noted that dockside and landing site inspections are carried out by fisheries officers. Neither a VMS system nor an on-board observer scheme is in use[306]. The enforcement activity is not portrayed as being stringent enough to provide a strong deterrent effect, or to guarantee reasonable compliance of the various sectors with the fisheries law. Enforcement at sea is split into two sectors. The State Police is tasked with law enforcement of the territorial sea, using its own set of patrol boats, while the Indian Coast Guard[307] is tasked with patrolling of the EEZ. The agencies responsible for penalty attribution are the respective Departments of Fisheries. Penalties include fines and the revoking of fishing licenses. Fines and the risk of getting caught are generally found too low to represent an appropriate deterrent level to bring about compliance.[308] Central Government states that offences have decreased over the past decade.[309]


The overall national budget for fisheries management has decreased over the last ten years, both at the Union and the State level. Costs related to Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) and conflict management are said to have increased although no specific data are available. The Government generally believes that the financial resources directed at MCS as adequate.

Participation by operators in the fisheries to cost-sharing for fisheries management is minimal. License fees are levied in the mechanized sector, but fees are low, as are penalties applied for fisheries offences. These sources of revenue do not represent a serious contribution to the overall cost the Government faces for the management of the resource.

Fishermen cooperative societies are exempted from income tax. Perhaps, the most important reasons for this exemption are the following:

Seafood exporters were exempted from income tax until recently. Exports (all agricultural commodities exported, including seafood) are charged a fee of 0.3 percent of the FOB value of seafood exports, having been reduced from 0.5 percent initially. The collected tax is used for financing the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), and currently stands at about US$ 4 million per annum. Import tariffs on seafood were 60 percent until recently; but these were reduced to 30-35 percent in 2002-03.[310] India imports very little fish, unlike other countries in the region.


India signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1995 and ratified the Convention in 1996. It has also ratified the UN Fish Stocks Agreement in 2003 but has yet to ratify the UN Compliance Agreement.

India takes an active interest in and participates fully in global fisheries initiatives at a policy level, including taking up some of the challenges represented by a host of International Programmes of Action (IPOAs) that have been launched by FAO over the past few years. A Coordinated Project for the Conservation and Management of Coastal and Marine Biodiversity was launched in 1999-2000, as well as a coral reef monitoring programme.

While by-catch of seabirds is perceived as a minor problem in Indian fisheries, ten species of endangered shark have come under the ambit of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, and research programs are being directed at this particular resource.[311] A sub-group has been constituted to assess fishing capacity, and the Government intends to have capacity measured by 2005. In addition to this, the new deep-sea policy is mentioned in the capacity study, and is expected to address these issues.

The extent of IUU fishing and related problems is also being assessed by a sub-group, and FAO is currently conducting a study into IUU fishing in India. The sub-group will suggest a set of appropriate measures to be taken upon publication of FAO’s findings. The dual registration and flag hopping for foreign vessels registered under Indian companies is an issue that will need to be addressed.

However, despite these advances in policy development, issues such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries have not been incorporated into national or State fisheries legislation.


India is party to a number of regional bodies, programmes and projects dealing with fisheries management and the protection of coastal habitats, communities and resources. Included in these are APFIC and IOTC. India collects data in formalized data collection schemes, and regularly feeds back due data to these regional bodies.

India also participates in programmes, inter-governmental and regional organizations that also deal with the management and conservation of fisheries resources, or the trade of fisheries products. These include the following:

There is, however, no legal requirement within either State or national fisheries legislation for fisheries management issues that may be adopted by regional fisheries bodies (or other regional body) to be incorporated into national legislation.


Marine fisheries on the west coast of India contribute around 70 percent of India’s national landings and are by far the largest fisheries in the western Indian Ocean region. However, marine capture fisheries contribute less than half of the national fish production (48.7 percent in 2000), the remainder coming from inland fisheries, inland aquaculture and brackish water aquaculture. Shrimp currently represents the single largest foreign currency earner as an export commodity.

Despite the size of these fisheries, however, management remains focussed on development goals and conflict resolution with resource sustainability being of secondary concern within State and national legislation. There are no limitations on entry to any fishery and the fisheries are essentially open-access. As a result, many fish resources in inshore areas of the west coast are over- or fully-exploited although some fisheries in the less-fished offshore areas are considered to be under-exploited.

In excess of 90 percent of the catches are taken from coastal waters, including backwaters and estuaries. The sector is modernizing, but traditional small-scale craft, part of which are motorized and/or mechanized, remain responsible for the bulk of catches. Overall, bottom trawling operations of vessels less than 16 m LOA account for around 50 percent of all catches.

Offshore fishing, or deep-sea fishing, is still very much under-utilized in India, and the lack of a coherent policy on deep-sea fishing appears to be a key factor. It is thought that another 0.7 million tonnes of untapped resources could be harvested from India’s EEZ, outside the territorial waters. The present contribution of deep-sea industrial-scale vessels to the overall catch is very small.

Employment, increased per-capita production, welfare of fishermen and increased export earnings are the main aims pursued by Government through its recent five year plans. Efforts aimed at fisheries focus on infrastructure enhancements (ports and post harvest facilities) and modernization of the fleet, affected through a range of direct investments and subsidy schemes. In comparative terms, much less effort is aimed at appraisal, management and conservation of the resources per se.

The responsibility for management of fisheries is shared between a number of Union and State organizations with day-to-day management mainly being implemented by State Fisheries Departments. No single Ministry is solely responsible for managing the fisheries sector. This lack of an overarching and coherent policy addressing coastal and deep-sea capture fisheries contributes to the lack of a coherent organization of the sector as a whole. There is a clear need to provide a mandate for one single Ministry to organize and administer the sector as a whole, supported by appropriate changes in the legal framework under which fisheries are managed.

However, India does have a well-developed Fishermen’s Cooperative tradition and this may represent an important management tool for maritime States and Government for the future. It enables the authorities to address access to marine resources and management issues through the empowerment of well-organized communities. Effective input controls, community-based property rights and co-management schemes are potential ways forward to solve the problems of overcapitalization and excessive fishing pressure in coastal waters.


FAO. 2000. Report of a regional workshop on fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance, Muscat, Oman, 24-28 October 1999. FAO/Norway programme of assistance to developing countries for the implementation of the code of conduct for responsible fisheries. Sub-programme C: Assistance to developing countries for upgrading their capabilities in Monitoring, Control and Surveillance. (FISHCODE). GCP/INT/648/ NOR: Field Report C-3 (En): 244p.

FAO. 2003. Fishery statistics: Capture production 2001. FAO yearbook. FAO Fisheries Series No. 63, FAO Statistics Series No. 173. Rome.

Flewwelling, P. 2000. FISHCODE Field report no. 15. India 28 March- 8 April.

Flewwelling, P. & Hosch, G. 2006. Country Review for East India. In: The State of the World Marine Capture Fisheries Management: Indian Ocean. C. De Young ed. FAO Technical Report No. 489. Rome.

Kurup, B.M. 2001. Experiences from the seasonal closure of bottom trawling in Kerala (South India) on the exploited fisheries resources. In: S. Goddard et al. (Eds). Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment in the NW Indian Ocean, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat Oman, pp98-106.

Matthew, S. 2003. Trade in Fisheries and Human Development. Country Case Study - India. Asia Pacific Regional Initiative on Trade, Economic Governance, and Human Development. UNDP. Asia.

Vivekanandan, E. 2002. Marine fisheries and fish biodiversity in India. Madras Research Centre of Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Chennai. 19pp.


Current Management of Marine Capture Fisheries

Level of

% Fisheries

% with Fisheries
Management Plan

% with Published

Trends in the number of
managed fisheries over the last
ten years

National (Union)





Regional (State)





Use of Fishery Management Tools within the three largest fisheries

Category of



License /


Rights- based

Taxes /




























* Most maritime States have provided for licenses for motorised vessels in their Acts. This encompasses the possibility to limit entry for given areas for such vessels.

Costs and Funding Sources of Fisheries Management within the three largest fisheries

Category of


Do Management Funding Outlays Cover

Are Management Funding Sources From


Monitoring &


License fees
in fishery

License fees from
other fisheries


















* Roughly 0.5% is levied on value for export products

Compliance and enforcement within the three largest fisheries

Category of




Random dockside

Routine inspections at
landing sites

At-sea boarding and
















Capacity management within the three largest fisheries

Category of


Does overfishing

Is fleet capacity

Is CPUE increasing,
constant or

Have capacity
programmes been

If used, please specify
objectives of capacity
reduction programme


Included in artisanal


India plans
to have fleet
measured by 2005




Indian Oil sardine



Bombay Duck






[265] Source: FAO Fisheries Country Profile;
[266] Source: World Bank online database;
[267] Source: World Bank online database;
[268] Inshore areas (<50m depth) of the east coast only yield 66% of the fish per unit area (5.9 t/km2), when compared to west coast areas (8.8 t/km2).
[269] A selection of associations and societies across the whole of India, to show the diversity include: Indian Fisheries Association, Mumbai; Inland Fisheries Society of India, West Bengal; Society of Fisheries Technologists (India), Cochin; Marine Biological Association of India, Cochin. The Asian Fisheries Society, Indian Branch, Mangalore; Seafood exporters Association of India; Association of Indian Fishery Industries; All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association; Kerala Fishermen Welfare Fund; Confederation of Fish Farmer’s Welfare Associations; National Fishworkers’ Forum (to protect the interests of fishworkers and mechanized boat operators); etc.
[270] India distinguishes between two types of marine capture fisheries, each one ruled by its particular legal regime. These are: a) coastal fisheries, and b) deep sea fisheries. Coastal fisheries fall under State jurisdiction, and take place within the first 12 nautical miles from the base line out to sea. Deep-sea fisheries are those operations taking place between 12 nautical miles and the outer boundary of the EEZ, falling under the jurisdiction of the Union Government. In practical terms, most coastal fishing operations take place in waters less than 50 meters in depth, and are carried out from small scale vessels, generally less than 20m LOA. Deep sea fishing is generally meant to indicate industrial operations, but in practical terms, some small-scale craft targeting particular resources are found to operate all the way to the outer boundaries of the EEZ.
[271] See: Section 3, 4th paragraph.
[272] Within the Indian context, "motorization" refers to out-board engine propulsion, replacing or adding to sails and oars of traditional craft, while "mechanization" refers to the operation of fishing crafts through inboard engines. In motorized craft, fishing operations are carried out manually.
[273] High speed diesel oil used for fuel.
[274] This particular programme is an initiative of the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), functioning under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
[275] See: Section 3, 1st paragraph.
[276] This policy permitted up to 51% foreign share capital in fishing companies, inconsistent with the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981. (see also footnote 15).
[277] A strike prompted the Government to constitute the Murari Committee in 1995, which recommended that the deep sea fishing policy of 1991 be called off.
[278] The Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, in force since 1981, defines an Indian fishing vessel as any vessel, which is owned by a company in which not less than 60% share capital is held by citizens of India. This gives rise to an inconsistency in the legal substance ruling ownership and registration of fishing vessels owned by companies with more than 40% foreign share capital.
[279] This enables a tuna fishing company from Taiwan to register as an Indian company, while also being registered as a fishing company in Taiwan. Its vessels can move between EEZs and fish for tuna by legally flying different flags (flag hopping).
[280] In 1999, an expert group led by K. Gopakumar, then Deputy Director of Fisheries, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, was constituted to elaborate a comprehensive marine fisheries policy. The report was submitted to Government in late 2001.
[281] See: Legal Framework Section.
[282] This is applicable to the artisanal sector only; in the mechanized sector, the crew receives monthly wages, plus (sometimes) a share in the returns.
[283] See: Marine Products Export Development Authority Act, 1972. Section 9 (2)(a).
[284] See: Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Maritime Zones Act, 1976. Section 7 (4) (a).
[285] See: Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Maritime Zones Act, 1976. Section 15 (c).
[286] Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Rules, 1982.
[287] In 1967, India proclaimed a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles instead of six, by Presidential Proclamation, revoking the previous proclamations of 1956 concerning the territorial sea and the contiguous zone
[288] e.g. West Bengal Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1993 - "An Act to regulate fishing by fishing vessels along the coast line of the State". Karnataka Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, 1987 - implementing the provisions of the Karnataka Marine Fishing Regulations Act, 1986.
[289] e.g. Goa, Daman and Diu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules.
Section 3. Application for licensing of fishing vessels under section 6. - (1) Every owner of a fishing vessel which is mechanically propelled shall make an application accompanied by a license fee of Rs. 205/- to the authorized officer, for the grant of a license for using such fishing vessel in the specified area in Form A.
(2) The authorized officer shall, while granting or refusing the license, apart from the conditions specified in clause (a), (b) & (c) of sub-section (4) of section 6, have regard to the number of fishing vessels already licensed in the area where the fishing vessel is sought to be operated.
(3) If the authorizing officer, after making such enquiries as deemed fit, decides to grant the license applied for, he shall issue the license in Form B, which shall be valid for a period of one year the date of issue.
(4) The authorized officer, having regard to the area in which the fishing vessel is sought to be operated, may direct the applicant to deposit an amount which shall be no less than Rs. 210/- but not more than Rs. 250/- as security for the due observance of the conditions of the license.
[290] Source: Government of India.
[291] Ibid.
[292] Administered by the Union Government but sometimes with consultation with the coastal States.
[293] Ministry of Agriculture Report, New Delhi, 1991.
[294] NOAA International Coastal Management Country Profile, 2004.
[295] NOAA International Coastal Management Country Profile, 2004. However, data is often lacking on the status of stocks or the impact of habitat destruction on commercial fisheries resources.
[296] India Agronet - prawn fisheries. (2004).
[297] Fisheries Department, Government of Gujarat 2003.
[298] This includes all vessels with motors.
[299] India Agro Net - Bombay duck fishery.
[300] India Agro Net - Prawn fisheries.
[301] Central Fisheries Research Institute. Internal research report (2002) on Assessment of Non-Penaeid Shrimp Resources of the North West Coast of India.
[302] See Policy Framework section above.
[303] In 2001, ten species of shark and ray and nine species of mollusks, all sea horses, giant grouper, five species each of coral and sea cucumbers, sponges and mollusks, have been brought under the ambit of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
[304] NOAA International Coastal Management Country Profile, 2004.
[305] url:
[306] FAO has assisted India in monitoring, control and surveillance issues through the Fishcode project, including the identification of MCS requirements (FAO, 2000).
[307] The Indian Coast Guard was established through the Coast Guard Act of 1978 (Act No. 30 of 1978), and operates under the Ministry of Defense. It is also responsible for the protection of marine habitat from ship-based pollution and the protection of species under the Wildlife Protection Act (e.g. turtle protection measures). The Indian Coast Guard is one of the few organizations in any Asian country that requires all junior officers to attend a six week fisheries training course as part of their formal training).
[308] Source: Government of India.
[309] Source: Government of India.
[310] Source: Sebastian Mathew, personal communication to Hosch and Flewwelling, December 2003
[311] Source: Government of India.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page