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Socio-economic aspects of management measures aimed at controlling sea turtle mortality: a case study of Orissa, India (Sebastian Mathew)

Sebastian Mathew[11]
International Collective in Support of Fishworkers
27 College Road, Chennai 6000006, India

The international conservation fraternity’s “protect everything” philosophy does real conservation - which surely includes sustained/yield utilization - as opposed to mere preservation, a great disservice in that it makes the countries in the developing world feel that total protection alone represents advanced thinking. This results in blanket conservation laws being brought in... which prevent the operation of conservation through good utilization schemes which would substantially benefit the populations.

- H. R. Bustard, Should Sea Turtles be Exploited? Marine Turtle Newsletter, 15: 3-5, 1980


Along the coasts of the State of Orissa (India), olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea), the most abundant marine turtles in the world, congregate in large numbers to mate and to nest on a seasonal basis, in the shallow coastal waters. These areas also happen to be the richest fishing grounds of Orissa, especially for shrimp. Interactions between fishing activities and sea turtles, and the resulting mortality of sea turtles, have been reported since the 1970s, but seem to have increased in the 1990s as a result of an expanding fishing fleet, especially bottom trawlers.

Experiences made in implementing various management measures to reduce sea turtle mortality due to fishing are presented, with particular emphasis on the consequences that these have had on traditional fishing communities. Suggestions for possible socio-economic indicators to monitor the impact of these measures on fishing communities are also presented.


There are reported instances of fishery-turtle interactions that lead to the incidental catch of turtles resulting in their mortality all over the world. The frequency of such instances seems to have increased over time. The expansion of shrimp bottom trawling and longline and driftnet fishing for tuna seems to have played a significant role in increasing such interactions over the past decade. In India turtle mortality caused by fishing is reported from the 1970s and seems to have exacerbated in the 1990s as a result of expanding fishing fleet, especially bottom trawlers. The problem is most acutely manifested in Orissa, the poorest State of India, on the eastern seaboard, where olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea), the most abundant marine turtles in the world, congregate in large numbers to mate and to nest on a seasonal basis, almost every year in the shallow coastal waters. These breeding habitats in the river mouths also happen to be the richest fishing grounds of Orissa, especially for shrimp. The marine turtle congregations occur in the peak fishing season. Interactions between such congregations and bottom trawl and gillnet fishing have been reported from 1974. This is perhaps the most striking example of such interactions in the world, involving the protection, almost every year, of an estimated 150 000 adult olive ridley population and their breeding and nesting grounds on the one hand, and the livelihood interests of about 50 000 fishers and fishworkers entirely dependent on coastal fisheries, on the other.

Marine turtles in Indian history

Tortoises and sea turtles are both worshipped as God and consumed as food in India. They are worshipped as the Kurma avatar[12] of Vishnu, the God of Preservation in Hinduism. The poor, irrespective of their caste and community, consumed the eggs and meat of tortoises and sea turtles in several parts of the country until turtle hunt and trade were banned. In West Bengal, which used to be the biggest market for turtles and turtle eggs, turtle meat was eaten on Pausha Sankranti, a harvest festival dedicated to Laxmi, the Hindu Goddess of Harvest and Wealth.

The earliest historical reference to large aggregations of turtles on the Orissa coast is from the 18th century travel accounts of an English trader, Alexander Hamilton, entitled “A New Account of the East Indies”. He refers to “prodigious number of sea tortoises” resorting to lay their eggs on the Orissa Coast (Hejmadi, 2000). Since the 13th century boatloads of turtle eggs from Orissa were traded with the neighbouring state of West Bengal (Chadha and Kar, 1999). About 100 boatloads, up to 100 000 eggs, were sold every year since 1957. The poorer segments of the population mainly consumed these eggs. Dried turtle eggs were also used as cattle-feed. The legal trade of turtle eggs went up to 1.5 million eggs in the 1970s (Chadha and Kar, 1999). The Government of Orissa formerly sold the rights for collection of approximately two million eggs per annum. These licences were cancelled following the advice of Robert Bustard, an FAO crocodile expert who in 1975 reported to the conservation community about mass nesting of Lepidochelys olivacea in Orissa. Adult marine turtles were also traded during the nesting season from Orissa to Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, and on the east coast of India. There was illegal targeted turtling off Orissa coast for a brief period of ten years, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, allegedly introduced by Bengali fishers who settled in Orissa in the 1970s (Chadha and Kar, 1999). An estimated 50 000 to 80 000 marine turtles, both male and female, were sold illegally in every season by the Bengali fishermen, which continued well into the 1980s (Chadha and Kar, 1999).

Status of olive ridley population and its main habitats in India

According to the Report of the Expert Scientific Panel on Sea Turtles (Government of India, 2000), five of the eight species of sea turtles found worldwide occur in the Indian coastal waters. These are olive ridley (also called oliveback loggerhead turtle or Pacific ridley), green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea schlegelii), and loggerhead (Caretta caretta gigas). The most common sea turtle found in Indian waters is olive ridley. The single most important breeding area for olive ridleys in the Indian Ocean is Orissa, which has three known rookeries, in Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya (Pandav, Choudhury and Shanker, 1998) (see Figure 1). Telemetric studies of olive ridleys that nest in Orissa suggest that while some of them remain in waters off Orissa, others migrate to Sri Lankan waters after nesting (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004).

Olive ridleys are found in shallow coastal waters of India on the eastern seaboard, particularly off the Orissa coastline from mid-October to April/May. The Gahirmatha beach, which extends from Dhamra to the Hansua river mouth (or Barunei as used in official records) to a distance of 35 km, is believed to be the most important rookery for olive ridley in the Indian Ocean. The Devi river mouth and Rushikulya river mouth are the other rookeries in Orissa. It has been suggested through genetic studies that olive ridley rookeries on the eastern seaboard of India “are distinct from other ridleys worldwide and might be ancestral to populations in other ocean basins” (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004). Mass nesting data for Gahirmatha is available since 1975-1976. The arribadas have most often been reported between January and March, with occasional reports during April and May, with 44 percent being reported in March, the largest occurrence in any single month[13]. Based on comparison of statistics of mass nesting estimates for Gahirmatha for the period 1975-1976 to 2000-2001, it is concluded “that Gahirmatha has had no drastic decline in the nesting population over the last 25 years” (Shanker Pandav and Choudhury, 2004).

There were years when there was no mass nesting in Orissa, for example, in 1982, 1988, 1997, 1998 and 2002 (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004). The sandbar extensively used from 1989 to 1996 by olive ridleys in Gahirmatha, Orissa, decreased in area from 1.0 km2 during 1989-1996, to 0.278 km2 in 1998 as a result of cyclones and erosion and subsequently increased to 0.52 km2 in 1999, when an arribada took place after a gap of two years. The reason for the lack of mass nesting events in 1997 and 1998 could be attributed to natural causes rather than human activities (Prusty, Sahoo and Mehta, 1999).

Figure 1 Source: ICSF. Based on Admiralty Charts 2058 and 2060. Compiled 2003

Incidental catch of olive ridley

Until the 1980s there had been subsistent harvesting of green turtle in the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu and target turtling for olive ridley along the Orissa and West Bengal coast on the eastern seaboard of India (Silas et al., 1983). However, there has been no targeted turtling in India since the 1980s. Incidental catch of olive ridleys in nylon and multifilament gillnets and bottom trawls has been reported since the 1980s mainly from Orissa (Kar, 1980). There are also reports of incidental catch of turtles in large-meshed gillnets from all over India (Government of India, 2000). The breeding season of olive ridleys coincide with the main marine fishing season in Orissa, especially for shrimp resources and this has exacerbated the olive ridley-fishery interactions.

The stranding figures for olive ridleys in Orissa coast decreased from 7 500 in 1982-1983 (Silas et al., 1983) to 5 000 in 1994 and increased to 13 000 per year in 1999 (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004). The mortality for all turtle species for the rest of India was 3 000, 2 600 and 1 900 for 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively (Government of India, 2000). About 99 percent of mortality was on India’s eastern seaboard, a total of nearly 46 000 dead turtles were found along the Orissa coast between 1993 and 1999, while current mortality rates are believed to be nearly 15 000 turtles per year (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004). Fishing is considered to be the greatest threat facing the olive ridleys in Orissa (Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury, 2004). The main cause of death is believed to be drowning in bottom trawls[14] and entanglement in certain types of gillnets, in which about 90 percent of mortality has occurred during December to February (Government of India, 2000).

Marine turtle protection measures in India

India is a signatory to the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and a party to the 1979 Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). All five species of sea turtles found in Indian waters are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 which is implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forests at the national level and by the state Forestry Departments at the state level. Its scope is up to the limits of Indian territorial waters. Marine turtles have been included in Schedule I of the said Act which provides total legal protection to turtles from being hunted or traded. Indian legal regimes for the protection of marine turtles are thus confined to the terrestrial and marine habitats of turtles, especially up to the limit of territorial waters. There are no provisions under existing fisheries legislation explicitly to protect turtles as target species or as incidental catch, except for the requirement to use TEDs in some coastal States. The definition of fish in Indian state-level fisheries legislation, with the exception of Gujarat, does not include marine turtles.

On 22 April 1975 the Gahirmatha beach was included in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary to protect the rookery of olive ridleys. To prevent targeted turtling, the Forestry Department sought the help of the Coast Guard in 1981-1982 in apprehending fishing vessels engaged in turtling from the neighbouring state of West Bengal (Silas et al., 1983). On 27 December 1993, under the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1982, (OMFRA) clause (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 4[15], fishing was prohibited within a radius of 20 km of the Gahirmatha area of the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary for a period of two years. On the same day, by another notification, under Section 3 (a) of OMFRA, the Fisheries Department authorized the Forestry Department “to check fishing activities which have been prohibited within the radius of 20 km of Gahirmatha beach....” These notifications have since been renewed on a biennial basis.

Another notification was issued by the Fisheries Department on 6 June 1997 prohibiting fishing by trawlers within 20 km seaward radius of Orissa coast from Jatadhar river mouth to Devi river mouth and from Chilika river mouth to Rushikulya river mouth from 1 January to 31 May every calendar year (see Figure 1). This notification was amended on 20 May 2000 to prohibit fishing by trawlers only up to a seaward distance (instead of seaward radius) of 20 km from the high tide line of Orissa coast from Jatadhar river mouth to Devi river mouth and from Chilika river mouth to Rushikulya river mouth for the same period. The intent of the notification, although unstated, is to prevent olive ridleys from being accidentally caught in trawl nets in the mating grounds in Devi and Rushikulya river mouths. The notification, however, does not mention the coordinates of the boxes prohibited for trawlers.

On 27 September 1997 the waters around Bhitarkanika were declared as Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary to protect the olive ridley marine turtle in its nesting and breeding habitat, under section 26A of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The sanctuary of 1 435 km2 has a marine area of 1 408 km2 and a land area of 27 km2 (Chadha and Kar, 1999). The sanctuary is demarcated into a core area of 725.5 km2 and a buffer zone of 709.5 km2. The Indian Coast Guard has been appointed as wildlife warden of Gahirmatha sea turtle sanctuary in 1998, with the power to stop and seize fishing vessels, especially trawlers, and to hand them over to the Forestry Department for further action.

Further, on 20 March 2003, the Orissa Fisheries Department issued another notification under section 3 (b) of OMFRA authorizing the Coast Guard to implement the provisions of the Act in response to the interim directions of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the apex court, the Supreme Court of India, dated 7 March 2003 “to enable the Coast Guard to seize and impound trawlers operating in restricted zone” (CEC, 2003). The CEC further observed after a visit to Orissa between 10 and 14 February 2004 in its report dated 06 April 2004 (CEC, 2004) that trawlers should be prohibited from fishing from 1 November to 31 May every year up to a distance of 20 km towards the sea from the high tide line in Gahirmatha, Devi river mouth and Rushikulya to substantially reduce turtle mortality.

Punishment for hunting or trading marine turtles, or destroying its habitat in a marine sanctuary is a criminal offence with imprisonment upto a maximum period of three years and a fine upto Rs. 25 000 (US$555) in a State where the per capita income of a fisherman per year is just one-third of this fine. Violation of OMFRA is adjudicated under a designated fisheries officer with a minimum fine of Rs. 5 000 (US$110), or five times the value of the fish catch on board; cancellation of registration; and forfeiture of the fishing vessel.

Although the reason for the prohibition of fishing off Gahirmatha has not been mentioned in the Government notification, it is seemingly for the protection of olive ridley marine turtles, which is not a targeted species of fish. However, the scope of Section 4 of OMFRA is to regulate, restrict or prohibit “catching in any specified area of such species of fish...”. Neither the OMFRA nor the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Rules 1983, define what fish or fishing is, and whether or not marine turtles are indeed treated as fish or as animals other than fish that could become incidental catch.

The Fisheries Department notification prohibiting fishing in the Gahirmatha area does not make any exemption for any kind of fishing although according to the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Rules 1983, “Non-Mechanized Traditional Fishing Crafts shall be allowed to operate freely without any restrictions. Waters up to five kilometres from the shore shall be reserved exclusively for such fishing crafts and in no case any other type of Mechanized Fishing vessels shall be allowed to operate in that area”. Thus, the five-km zone is created to protect the interests of those who work onboard non-mechanized fishing vessels.

Under clause (a) of sub-section (2) of the Section 4 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972: “the need to protect the interests of different sections of persons engaged in fishing, particularly those engaged in fishing using traditional fishing craft such as catamaran, country craft or canoe” should be regarded by the Government while making an order to regulate, restrict or prohibit, catching fish in any specified area under sub-section (1). While small mechanized vessels of less than 10 HP and fishing with monofilament nets of shorter length and smaller mesh size are permitted in the buffer zone, no fishing activity whatsoever is permitted in the core area of the sanctuary[16]. It is unclear if the requirement to “protect the occupational interests of the local fishermen” as per Section 18 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 is fully met by allowing access for certain types of fishing activities to the buffer zone of the sanctuary.

While declaring a sanctuary that includes parts of the territorial waters of India there is further provision in the Wild Life Protection Act 1972, that the “right of innocent passage of any vessel or boat through the territorial waters shall not be affected by the notification issued under sub-section (1)” (declaration of a sanctuary). However, the 2004 CEC report suggests that innocent passage through the core area of the sanctuary should be allowed only for “traditional fishermen” on local fishing vessels. Several of the existing legal provisions to protect the livelihood and occupational interests of fishers are thus not adequately ensured in specific instruments that are designed to protect turtle habitats.

Three agencies are authorized to implement turtle conservation measures, viz., the Coast Guard, the Forestry and the Fisheries Departments of Orissa. According to a written communication from the Department of Operation, Indian Coast Guard, dated 20 February 2004, between 1997-1998 and 2003-2004, a total of 185 fishing vessels were apprehended for violation of turtle protection measures. The Coast Guard also tries to deter illegal fishing vessels in no trawling and no fishing zones for protection of turtles before apprehending them. Arrests and detention are also made by the Forestry and Fisheries Departments. According to the Fisheries Department of Orissa, 72 fishing vessels were seized in 2002-2003 and 19 vessels in 2003-2004 for violation of the no trawling and fishing zone under the Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1982. Most of the arrests were of trawlers found within the “no fishing zone” off Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya. The Coast Guard seems to incur an annual expenditure of about US$1.4 million for monitoring the no trawling and fishing zones during the turtle congregation period, November to May. Among apprehensions of fishing vessels for breaking fishing rules and regulations in the Indian maritime waters, those for protecting marine turtles appears to be the highest in number. Moreover, the amount spent on enforcement of turtle conservation measures in Orissa seems to be the highest on the fisheries-related enforcement front in India.

Requirement to use turtle excluder device

Trials with “turtle excluder nets” was recommended in 1983 with a view to modifying bottom trawls during the nesting season of turtles in India (Silas et al., 1983). In 1996 to fulfil legal obligations in the US with regard to the requirement to import shrimp only from countries having a marine turtle conservation programme comparable to that of the US, a Training-Cum-Demonstration Workshop on the need and method of installing and using the turtle excluder device (TED) by shrimp fishing vessels was organized at Paradip, Orissa, from 11 to 14 November 1996. One of the resolutions was that the “Government of India formulate appropriate and timely policies, their implementation and enforcement thereof so that India is not placed in a disadvantageous position in relation to other shrimp exporting countries” (recommendations of the workshop quoted in Chadha and Kar, 1999). In 1998 an Expert Scientific Panel (ESP), set up by the Government of India on sea turtles, also recommended on intuitive merit that TEDs be made mandatory for all trawlers on the eastern seaboard of India as well as Kerala on the west coast (Government of India, 2000).

An amendment to the Orissa Marine Fishing Rules 1983, was made in 2001, ostensibly in response to directions given to the State Government by the Orissa High Court dated 14 May 1998 in the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), India, Petitioner v. State of Orissa and others, Respondents[17], requiring mandatory use of TEDs for all trawlers in areas within and around Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, and at the recommendations of the ESP. The amendment, Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation (Amendment) Rules 2001 dated 17 April 2001 made it mandatory for all mechanized fishing vessels to use TEDs round the year[18]. Some 540 fully subsidized TEDs have so far been distributed to trawler operators in Orissa (CEC, 2003).

The trawler operators are reluctant to use TEDs because of its potential impact on their shrimp and fish catch. They would rather tie up their vessels than use TEDs, 20 to 30 percent of their catch is feared to get lost if TEDs are fitted to the belly of their trawls; they argue that the fish would escape through the escape hatch provided for turtles. Moreover, the problem is further exacerbated in multispecies fisheries where there are fish of different size as target catch, as well as shrimp and other crustaceans. It is further feared that turtles or ray fish, if stuck to the mouth of TEDs, might block the path of fish to the cod end.

In a Memorandum by the All Orissa Coordination Committee of Trawler Owners submitted on 12 February 2002, at the Valedictory Session of a Workshop-cum-Demonstration on TED in Paradip, Orissa, organized by the Directorate of Fisheries, Orissa, and Project Swarajya, an NGO, it was pointed out that TEDs should not be thrust upon the trawler owners of Orissa. The Committee said it is willing to consider TEDs only if its members are allowed to undertake trawling operations in the no trawling and fishing zones. The Committee said its members could even consider fully closing down their fishery during the turtle-nesting season if they are sufficiently compensated by the Government.

Some conservationists are also not sure if TED would be the best solution to prevent turtle mortality in the waters of Orissa. They fear that larger aggregations of turtles can clog turtle excluder devices. If there is a large catch fish do escape from TEDs, as it has been observed in field trials conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India[19]. It is also impractical to expect a trawler with at least five sets of trawl gear to have TEDs for every trawl net. Moreover, different types of trawl gear such as low open bottom trawls and high open bottom trawls are not separately studied with TEDs. The efficacy of TEDs is also not studied in different types of turtle congregations, in different sea bottom conditions and at different depths[20].

The turtle congregations are almost entirely found within 5 km from the seaboard and effective protection of what turtle biologists call “reproductive patches” - turtle congregations comprising reproductively active adults - would be the best way to protect the breeding turtles, which in any case are not confined only to the spatially bound “no fishing zone” or the marine sanctuary, argues a turtle biologist (see footnote 10). This mainly presupposes identifying such patches and protecting them in a targeted manner, instead of guarding large spatial entities that may or may not be active turtle habitats. He also argues that such dynamic conservation measures in conjunction with strict implementation of the 5 km near-shore “non-mechanized fishing zone”, in particular, can significantly reduce the interaction between turtles and trawl fisheries. This would be the best way to bring down mortality rates of adult sea turtles. Also from the cost of enforcement point of view, this would be a far cheaper option.

In Orissa trawlers accounted for 35 percent of the total marine fish production of 121 000 tonnes in 2001. From 458 in 1992, the number of registered trawlers in Orissa has more than doubled to 949 in 2001. They account for the largest share of shrimp production in Orissa, and shrimp accounts for more than 50 percent of the value of marine fish production. In spite of loss of about 54 percent of the trawling grounds to turtle conservation grounds it is surprising that the trawler fleet showed such phenomenal growth in the 1990s. From only day trawling the fleet has diversified into day and multi-day trawling. The actual number of hours spent fishing by a mechanized trawl unit has been increasing quite dramatically in Orissa, while the fish catch per hour of fishing effort has been declining steadily from 1997 to 2001. The trawl sector thus shows clear signs of economic overfishing and the largest number of turtle mortality in bottom trawlers was reported in the 1990s. It is possible to argue that turtle mortality was also a symptom of increasing fleet capacity of trawlers. The day trawlers that fish illegally within the prohibited 5 km zone, dragging for shrimp, cause almost the entire turtle mortality that is attributed to trawlers. Those who own day trawlers are the “poor” among trawl operators. The multi-day trawlers called “sona” - meaning gold - introduced from Andhra Pradesh, are not believed to have any interaction with turtles since these vessels (investment of US$27 000, at 2004 prices) fish much further away from turtle congregations.

Proposed proscription of gillnets

In view of the alleged excessive fishing being done in the nesting sites, one of the interim directions of the CEC to the Government of Orissa, dated 7 March 2003, was to ban all gillnets operating within 5 km of the three nesting sites, for a period of three months (CEC, 2003). Thus, outside the core of the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary artisanal and small-scale fishing vessels using gillnets were also brought under turtle protection measures for the first time irrespective of the type of gillnets they have been using and the relative impact of these units on turtle congregations. The CEC has since made another visit to Orissa from 10 to 14 February 2004 to ascertain if the earlier interim directions were complied by the Government of Orissa.

In our field trip in Orissa from 22 to 28 January 2004 we noticed about 15 different types of gillnets, including nylon trammel nets, being used in Orissa that catch anything from sharks and rays to sardines and shrimps. These gears are made of nylon monofilament, nylon multifilament, and high-density polypropylene (HDP). According to artisanal gillnet fishers in several coastal villages, while nylon monofilament nets of mesh sizes 20 mm, 50 mm, 70 mm and 90 mm are safe for turtles (turtles can easily break the webbing with their flippers, argue these fishers), nylon multifilament gillnets of 140 mm (to catch sea bass), 250 to 280 mm (to catch sting rays) are not safe for turtles. They said they could agree to a ban on such gears, if necessary. But they are against a blanket ban on all forms of gillnets, which is the mainstay of fishers of Orissa.

The traditional fishers explained the interaction between turtles and fisheries. There is a relationship between flood-water discharge from rivers into the coastal waters, aggregation of jellyfish and arribadas. Turtles feed on jellyfish, and it removes one major predator that competes with the fishers, for target species and, therefore, they welcome turtles, said fishermen in two fishing villages.

There are about 11 000 fishing vessels (motorized and non-motorized) in the artisanal and small-scale sector that use gillnets. In addition, there are about 700 mechanized gillnetters. These vessels combined are a source of livelihood for about 50 000 fishworkers in Orissa. In 2001 motorized gillnet vessels (investment varying from US$4 000 to US$10 000, at 2004 prices) contributed 34 percent of the total marine fish production of Orissa, and it has been showing an increasing trend since 1991. Although the total number of motorized gillnet vessels almost doubled from 1 886 in 1992 to 3 643 in 2001, the catch per hour of fishing effort has increased quite dramatically between 1991 and 2001. According to a Wildlife Institute of India study on incidental capture and mortality of sea turtles (Gopi, 2002), strandings of sea turtles are much less in areas where monofilament gillnets are the dominant mode of fishing method. Thus the interaction of motorized/non-motorized fishing vessels using monofilament gillnets does not seem to have a significant impact on turtle mortality.

In a petition dated 19 February 2004, the Orissa Traditional Fish Workers Union (OTFWU) brought to the attention of the Chairman of the CEC that ever since the 2003 interim directions of the CEC there are prohibitions not only on trawlers but on all types of fishing vessels, both mechanized and non-mechanized, in the core of the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary and its buffer zone, as well as in other “non-mechanized fishing zones” and “no trawling zones”, using different types of gillnets. The petition alleged that there was high-handedness in implementing turtle protection measures by the Forestry Department. The OTFWU observes in its petition: “This ban is compounded with arrests, bribes, extortion and other forms of harassment, which in the long run is detrimental to any conservation effort. Ironically this treatment has been meted out in areas where local people are actively engaged in turtle conservation efforts. Therefore what has in actuality happened after the 7 March 2003 interim direction is that excesses of the Forestry Department have increased in the coastal areas and the livelihoods of the traditional fisherfolk are in jeopardy”.

The petition further highlighted the plight of thousands of artisanal fishers living in the proximity of the Gahirmatha sanctuary, that they have to first cross the core of the sanctuary (see Figure 2) to reach the buffer zone where fishing is permitted, that the fishers are harassed by the Forestry Department officials while passing innocently through the core area (this is in spite of provisions for safe passage through the core of a sanctuary guaranteed by the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972).

The OTFWU was not clear about the rationale behind the boundaries of the marine sanctuary, which extends to areas where turtles do not congregate; they wondered why the southern boundaries of the sanctuary could not be redrawn to allow for artisanal fishing with passive gear in those rich fishing grounds. It also expressed fears that introducing “no fishing zones” in Devi and Rushikulya, where currently no such ban exists, would have an adverse impact on life and livelihood of artisanal fishing communities who are one of the poorest sections of the Orissa population. The OTFWU further pleaded that efforts should be made to work on conservation practices along the lines of a Community Reserve in Devi and Rushikulya after undertaking scientific research and consultative meetings of fishing communities, researchers and scientists as well as Forestry and Fisheries Departments.

The OTFWU highlighted some of the problems that exacerbate the poor living conditions of artisanal fishing communities, which include uncontrolled and indiscriminate trawling, industrial and civic pollution of the sea, development projects such as ports, military establishments and operations, oil and gas exploration, rare earth mining from the coastal areas, intensive prawn culture, collection of prawn seeds by fine-meshed nets, and uncontrolled and irresponsible tourism.

Finally, the OTFWU made the following demands in relation to marine turtle conservation: (1) traditional fishermen must be made partners in conservation efforts at all levels; (2) no traditional fishing gear should be banned without adequate and scientific study and data; (3) fishworkers displaced due to ban on any particular gear should be provided with adequate financial assistance for shifting to any other allowable gear; (4) all affected fishers of that area must be compensated if there is complete ban on any particular area for a particular period, for the loss of income during the duration of the ban; and (5) traditional fishers using traditional gears should be differentiated from mechanized gears like trawling.

The remedial measures proposed by the CEC in its report of 6 April 2004 (CEC, 2004) address several of the concerns of the OTFWU. It relented on its early recommendation to ban all forms of gillnetting and agreed to allow for fishing by non-mechanized traditional gillnet fishing vessels using small-meshed, monofilament gillnets with a maximum length of 300 m within 5 km of the high tide line in all areas along Orissa’s seaboard, which includes the three nesting sites and the turtle congregation zones. It also allows for motorized fishing vessels using gillnets of similar specifications as above to fish within 5 km of the high tide line in all areas except the 5 km exclusion zones around the mass nesting sites. The CEC, however, proscribed multifilament large-meshed gillnets as well as all gillnets - monofilament and multifilament - above 140 mm mesh size as a precautionary measure.

The 2004 CEC Report further suggests that the Coast Guard should be requested to demarcate the turtle congregation zones as well as the 5 km limits around the mass nesting sites using marking buoys. The 2004 CEC report also recommends that, “if any boat on inspection at sea is found not using a TED or has stitched shut the escape hatch of the trawl net, its license should be cancelled, the boat impounded and a fine levied for the first offence” (CEC, 2004). It also suggests bringing the trawler fleet under a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).

Figure 2 Source: ICSF, Based on Admiralty Charts 2058 and 2060. Compiled 2003

The 2004 CEC Report further highlights, inter alia, the importance of community participation in turtle conservation measures, provision of alternative livelihood to fishers from traditional fishing communities who are affected by turtle conservation measures, and declaring a moratorium on new fishing licenses for trawlers.


The closed areas around Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya, and the 5-km band of inshore waters where trawling is totally prohibited would constitute 5 527 km2, which is about 54 percent of the territorial waters adjacent to the Orissa coast of India closed for bottom trawling. The area closed to artisanal fisheries is 1 500 km2 (Gahirmatha region), which is about 14 percent of Orissa’s territorial waters. The closed area in Gahirmatha alone is believed to affect the livelihood of 4 000 artisanal fishers, about 2 000 fishers in mechanized gillnetting and about 500 fishers in bottom trawling. In Devi about 1 000 workers on board bottom trawlers are affected by the closed season. The impact has been particularly severe on the 400 bottom trawlers (all below 15 m in length) operating from Paradip, affecting the livelihood of 10 000 fishworkers in production, processing and marketing sub-sectors. On the whole, between 40 000 to 50 000 fishworkers and fishing vessel operators have been affected in Orissa as a result of sea turtle conservation programmes, according to Mr Tarun Kumar Pattnaik, former President, Orissa Marine Fish Producers’ Association, Paradip.

In a state with 47.15 percent people living below poverty line (annual income of US$300) (Government of India, 2002), and with marine fishers having an annual per capita income of less than US$200, the potential loss of livelihood opportunity as a result of losing access to fishing ground seems quite significant. This aspect has so far been neglected and needs to be urgently looked into. A compensation package for fishing opportunities foregone should be worked out, including provisions for earning an alternative livelihood.

The implementation of the existing legal mechanisms that call for total protection of turtles and their habitats in the dynamic marine environment is bound to give rise to problems due to the fluidity of the medium and mobility of both fish and turtles. In this context, Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act 1973, of the USA that authorizes the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to permit the taking of fish and wildlife otherwise prohibited pursuant to Section 9 of the ESA if such taking is “incidental to, and not the purpose of carrying out otherwise lawful activities” like fishing, is important. Fishers in the USA can apply for a Section 10 incidental take permit to incidentally take threatened or endangered species of sea turtles. As a condition for issuance of a permit, the permit applicant must develop a conservation plan, which specifies actions to minimize negative impacts to the species of concern.

There is need for considerable improvement of the scope of legislation for turtle protection, especially with regard to turtle fisheries interactions. Instead of total protection regimes for turtles, it may be judicious to move into conservation regimes for all the coastal living resources, including turtles. Fisheries legislation should adopt an appropriate definition of fish and fishing that either includes turtles or makes it possible to conserve turtle resources by providing cross-linkage to relevant instruments for the conservation of marine living resources. There is also need to develop a programme to minimize incidental catch and to promote coastal habitat protection. There should be effective ways of minimizing turtle-fisheries interactions through monitoring these interactions closely. There is further need to better understand how this interaction takes place and whether or not these are due to fisheries-dependent or fisheries-independent factors. How different kinds of gear and different kinds of fisheries interact with marine turtles is still not well understood and without an in situ study of such interactions it may be difficult to develop a prudent management programme for turtles. As has been pointed out by several authors, it is also important to have a better understanding of non-fishery factors contributing to turtle mortality, which should also have implications for fisheries.

Right of safe passage through the marine sanctuary and “no fishing zones” should be clearly defined. This is an important issue for several communities living in the proximity of the marine sanctuary, who have to cross the core area of the sanctuary to fish beyond. There should be professional training of enforcement officers who apprehend fishing vessels so that unnecessary harassment of fishers can be avoided. Enforcement officers should have a good idea about different fishing methods and they should be made to carry samples of fishing gear. There should also be a proper operational definition of fishing in fisheries legislation. There should be effective and transparent ways to determine if fishing indeed has happened within the marine sanctuary or “no fishing zones”. There is need to develop a procedure manual for enforcement and a need for greater coherence between enforcement officers of the three agencies, viz., Fisheries Department, Forestry Department and the Coast Guard. There is also a need to prepare awareness programmes not only about the need to conserve turtles but also to avoid turtle protection zones. Such programmes should be undertaken in Orissa as well as in its neighbouring States.

Socio-economic indicators for management

Developing, designing, implementation and enforcement of closed areas and seasons for turtle conservation should take into account the socio-economic aspects of the communities dependent on the marine resources as well as the rights of fishing communities that are recognized under local, national and international legal instruments.

This should be keeping in line with various international obligations such as the Convention on Migratory Species; goal one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), viz, reduction of poverty; the recommendations of the Fifth World Parks Congress (WPC), related to protected areas, livelihoods and poverty; and the recommendations of the 2004 Seventh Conference of Parties (COP 7) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on Protected Areas. In this context the introduction to the programme of work on Protected Areas finalized by COP7, states: “Protected areas, together with conservation, sustainable use and restoration initiatives in the wider land and seascape are essential components in national and global biodiversity conservation strategies. They provide a range of goods and ecological services while preserving natural and cultural heritage. They can contribute to poverty alleviation by providing employment opportunities and livelihoods to people living in and around them.”

Some concrete indicators reflecting the above principles would be to which extent:


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[11] We would like to acknowledge the following persons or organizations for providing inputs that immensely helped in the preparation of this paper: Aarthi Sridhar, Consultant, Bangalore; Ashok Kumar Tripathy, Secretary, Department of Fisheries, Government of Orissa, Basudev Tripathy, Sea Turtle Project, Purunabandha, Ganjam, Orissa; Bivash Pandav, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun; Bodiga and Jagmiya, artisanal fishermen, Paradip, Orissa; the Coast Guard Regional Headquarters (East), Chennai; Kartik Shanker, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), Bangalore; Kharnasi Jai Jaganath Primary Marine Cooperative Society; Nolia Teppa Community, Paradip; Orissa Traditional Fish Workers’ Union (OTFWU), Aryapali; Rahal Mishra, Utkal Marine Fisheries Cooperative Society, Paradip; Sandukut Marine Primary Fisheries Cooperative Society, Paradip; Subash Nayak, Kartikeshwar Matchyajibi Sangha, Paradip; and Tarun Kumar Pattnaik, former President, Orissa Marine Fish Producers Association, Paradip.
[12] Kurma means tortoise and avatar means incarnation.
[13] Estimated from Table 3 of Shanker, Pandav and Choudhury 2004.
[14] The Government of Orissa, under the Orissa Fisheries Corporation, introduced bottom trawling in 1957. Under the private sector, bottom trawling was undertaken since 1974. The total number of trawlers increased to about 949 in 2001.
[15] Clause (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 4 states: “The Government may, having regard to the matters referred to in sub-section (2) (which states: ““specified area” means such area in the sea along the entire coastline of the State but not beyond territorial waters, as may be specified by the Government, by notification”), by order notified in the official Gazette, regulate, restrict or prohibit - (c) catching in any specified area of such species of fish and for such period as may be specified in the notification.
[16] Minutes of the Meeting of the High Power Committee held on 21.5.1998 at 12.45 hrs under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, Orissa, for protection of olive ridley sea turtles.
[17] Petition filed for certain direction to State Government so that flora and fauna of certain wildlife sanctuary is protected and ecological balance is maintained.
[18] In this amendment TED is defined “as a device duly approved by the authorized officer and used for the purpose of the cod end in the net (trawl) rigged for fishing”.
[19] Discussion with Basudev Tripathy, Sea Turtle Project, Purunubandha, Orissa, dated 26 January 2004.
[20] Discussion with Bivash Pandav, Wildlife Institute of India dated 23 February 2004

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