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Under pressure from fishermen, Pakistan takes action against illegal fishing in Balochistan

Pakistan's maritime agency conducts operations along the Balochistan coastline (Photo: @HqPmsa/Twitter)

The Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) and Balochistan’s fisheries department seized three trawlers and apprehended dozens of fishermen for illegal fishing in Balochistan waters.

The two departments conducted joint operations against illegal fishing in Gwadar on January 2. A statement by the PMSA said: “PMSA units carried out patrolling at open sea, south of Gwadar, Pasni, Pishukan, Ganz and Jiwani sectors to search for trawlers carrying out illegal fishing or using banned nets.”

The statement added that Pakistani agencies boarded and searched trawling vessels around Balochistan ports–Gwadar and Jiwani, reports Gulf News.

Geopolitical analyst Mark Kinra told India Narrative that Balochistan’s marine resources are being violated both domestically and at the international level. "Domestically, fishermen from Sindh fish within 12 nautical miles of Baloch waters which is prohibited through the Balochistan Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1986. But illegal fishing exists, building resentment among the Baloch".

He adds that the Balochistan government agreed to ban illegal fishing up to 30 nautical miles "which seems a long shot because its jurisdiction exists only till 12 nautical miles" after which the federal government's jurisdiction prevails.

The Baloch people, who feel alienated under Pakistani rule, asked the government to ban Sindh fishing boats along with Chinese trawlers. In an effort to quell the protests, the Balochistan government requested the Sindh government to stop its fishermen from entering its waters.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan too tweeted in December 2021 that illegal fishing will not be allowed in Balochistan seas. In a tweet Khan said: "I have taken notice of the very legitimate demands of the hardworking fishermen of Gwadar. Will be taking strong action against illegal fishing by trawlers & will also speak to CM Balochistan".

Despite Khan's statement over illegal trawlers in Balochistan, the fact remains that Islamabad issued fishing rights to Chinese vessels.

Now Khan is now caught between Baloch protests and Chinese investments.

Kinra says that the Chinese are deeply interested in Pakistan’s fishing sector. "Chinese Consul General Li Bijian spoke about getting bigger boats and modern fishing tools to build processing factories. The recent inclusion of the $3.5 billion Karachi Comprehensive Coastal Development Zone (KCCDZ) in CPEC could be a sign in that direction. The project will encompass a state-of-the-art fishing port with a world class fisheries export processing zone".

"According to Pakistan’s Deep Sea Fishing Policy 2021, foreign fishing vessels are not allowed to fish in Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But this runs contrary to Chinese investments in KCCDZ. It is possible that in the future Pakistan will either make special arrangements for Chinese trawlers or they will continue to fish illegally", says Kinra.

Balochistan had recently witnessed mass protests by fishermen and the common people demanding curbs on illegal trawling by Chinese commercial fishing boats and lack of basic facilities like power and water. People also protested against excessive security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which restricted their movement within Balochistanand curtailed access to the sea.

The protests have not deterred Chinese fishing vessels. In a rare instance in July 2021, Pakistan seized five Chinese boats for illegal fishing in Gwadar and took away their catch. But such actions are few and far between and happen more for show than serious intent.

The question is with huge Chinese investments in the fishing sector, can a cash-strapped Pakistan override iron brother China to curry favour with poor Baloch fishermen?