International

The Chinese Fishing Story- Rising Threat For Pakistan

The promises to boost Pakistani farmers and fishermen out of poverty by linking them to international markets, as sold through the dreams of CPEC and Chinese BRI, seem to have vanished into thin air.

The recent turmoil on the canvas is the week-long protest by the local fishermen of Sindh who have been denied access to the seas off Baluchistan. Thousands of fishermen and boatmen gathered at the Karachi Fisheries on the call of the Sindh Trawler Owners and Fishermen Association (STOFA) for a protest on February 20, highlighting what they called unjust and tyrannical treatment by the Balochistan government. The protesting fishermen also subsequently blockaded Karachi port, assembling their trawlers across the main channel to halt all traffic in and out of Pakistan’s busiest port in February 23.

The fishermen of Sindh are regularly not being granted access to fishing in the waters off Baluchistan. Not only that but the fisheries department, coast guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) are carrying out joint patrols to stop trawlers from Sindh coming into Balochistan waters.

Having been alienated in their own waters, these fishermen have been protesting for their fishing rights and livelihood for some time now. These developments are a consequence of the rising Baluch protests against unabated exploitation of their natural reserves and livelihood by the Pakistan government agencies.

The region is also full of minerals and gaseous reserves and meets a large portion of the country’s gas needs. Already marred by the COVID pandemic, there were mass protests by fishermen and common people in the Baluchistan’s port city of Gwadar in December last year, to press demands for authorities to take action against illegal trawling by Chinese commercial fishing trawlers and vessels from Sindh. Fishermen of Baluchistan had also led protests in July 21 in Gwadar against hours of power-cuts, limited access to fishing and acute shortage of potable water.

Also Read, Protesting Pakistani fishermen block Karachi port, Euronews, 24/02/2022

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At least two million people are connected to the fishing business in Gwadar. Their livelihoods depend on day-to-day fishing. But, the intrusion of Chinese trawlers has created a fear of deprivation in the minds of local fishermen of Sindh and Baluchistan. Having been granted fishing licenses, dozens of Chinese trawlers with better fishing equipment and deep-sea fishing abilities have often been sighted anchored off Karachi or in waters along the Makran coast.

Allegedly, such fishing may also cause depletion of fish, shrimps, and the marine ecosystem. Chinese fishing vessels and trawlers, backed by their Navy and the state have been a nuisance value in the Indian Ocean and have caused regular disturbances in the recent past. In the three main categories of ‘The Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU)Fishing Index’ published in January 2019 – vulnerability, prevalence, and response – China ranked first globally.

As a 2015 Greenpeace report stated, overfishing on the high seas and in foreign EEZs has been a common practice for Chinese vessels. According to Greenpeace, Chinese fishing companies – which are dependent on the state – regularly underreport the size of their vessels, sometimes by as much as 60 percent, to obtain cheaper licenses. This also enables them to haul in much larger volumes of fish than permitted and to carry on fishing in areas formally reserved for smaller ships.

The Pakistan government, however, says that the country needs Chinese investment to bolster its economy. “Chinese companies are investing in Pakistan and are also paying taxes, which will help our economy. If local fishermen have the capacity for deep-sea fishing, we’ll consider them as well. If they are not capable, then they should not oppose the government’s policies,” Muhammad Iqbal Khan, a ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker, told DW.

Pakistan is either seriously chasing this myth of prosperity and modernization of wealth under the name of CPEC/ BRI or its leaders are selling these unrealistic dreams to the poor fishermen, farmers, and landowners in the region whilst themselves profiting from kickbacks and handouts. It is becoming more and more apparent that the dream sold to them in terms of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is coming back to bite Islamabad. It is a model that has failed in most places and is unlikely to be any different for the already deprived fishermen of Sind and Baluchistan. The rising protests and blockades by fishermen in the last two years come as a welcome sign against the tyrannical treatment of the Pakistan Navy, PMSA, and Fisheries department against their very own fishermen and citizens.

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