At the beginning of June, fishermen in Goa returned from the sea to their docks. They will take a break from fishing until mid-August, adhering to a two-and-a-half-month ban.

In 2007, the central government imposed a ban on fishing off the western coast from June 15 to the end of July, coinciding with most of the southwest monsoon. The central government has a similar ban for the eastern coast that coincides with the northeast monsoon. Boats with engines with under 10 horsepower are exempt from this ban.

Last year, the Goa government increased the central government ban by two weeks: It said fishing should stop on June 1 itself.

The bans exist because fish usually breed in the monsoon, and suspending fishing allows them to replenish the sea with what has been depleted over the rest of the year. Moreover, rough winds during the monsoon also make fishing dangerous for all but the most high-powered boats.

But the Goa ban applies only to boats registered in the state, so those from other states, especially Karnataka, came in droves this year to the fishing grounds off the Goan coast to take advantage of reduced competition during the two-week window from June 1 to 15. Goa is allowed to enforce its ban only within 12 nautical miles from the coast. Boats from other states are permitted to roam beyond that.

Goan fishermen are not happy, saying that this undermines the purpose of their state ban, which is to give fish more time to restock the sea. Goan fishermen want the central government to follow their state's lead and advance its ban to June 1, to prevent boats from other states from fishing during these two weeks.

“In agriculture, one acre of land can give only a certain yield,” said Bernard de Souza, a retired owner of a trawler business in Panjim. “The sea also has a similar maximum yield that is sustainable. The sea can produce only so many fish each year.”

Goan fishermen also support extending the ban by two weeks on the other side, till August 15, instead of only until the end of July, said Menino Alfonso, president of the Mandovi Fishermen Marketing Cooperative Society, a collective of boat owners from the Zuari River to Mapusa in north Goa. “With trawlers coming from other states, our fish stocks will go empty in two years."

Conflicts about how long fishing should be suspended have intensified in India with the increased mechanisation of fishing and a proliferation of trawlers.

Trawling is one of two fishing methods in which the vessel, the trawler, speeds through the open sea with a net trailing behind it, catching all fish in its path. During the monsoon, when fish normally breed, the force of a trawler's engine can disturb the seabed, where fish eggs are buried, and throw them up into the water, preventing them from hatching. An average trawler has an engine with 140 to 150 horsepower.

India, like the US, has among the world's shorter bans, of 45 days. Most coastal fishing bans are for at least 60 days. In 1980, Indonesia banned trawling throughout the year for nearly three decades to allow shrimp stocks to get replenished. Traditional fishermen using smaller boats were exempt from this.

“Traditional fishermen, who understand fishing, support a longer ban,” said Alfonso. “Back in 1986, trawler owners had also raised a call for this. It is the new people who are in it for money who do not understand its importance.”

Coastal conflict

Goan fishermen particularly resent the influx of boats from Karnataka. Because Karnataka's fishing grounds are depleted, its trawlers regularly move both north and south of the state's boundaries to look for fish, said Alfonso.

“Boats from Karnataka illegally put engines of 450 horsepower in their boats [as opposed to 140 HP in Goa and 150 HP in Maharashtra] and trawl our part of the sea,” Alfonso complained. “When they race through the sea during these two weeks, the eggs rise from the sea bed, but do not go back.”

VK Shetty, managing director of the Mangalore-based Karnataka Fisheries Development Corporation, acknowledged the problem. “Our boats go to other states and sometimes violate their boundaries,” he said. “That is why they get into trouble.”

Maharashtra also has its share of trouble from Karnataka fishermen. In 2012, farmers from Ratnagiri district in south Maharashtra confiscated equipment and catch from Karnataka trawlers that went too close to the shore, even threatening to burn the boats.

Like Goa, Maharashtra has a longer ban than the one put in place by the central government. Its ban extends to the second week of August to coincide with the Nariyal Purnima festival, when fishermen consider it auspicious to resume work.

To sort out conflicts, delegations from Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka have all approached the central government to revise its ban dates. Fishermen, especially from Goa, hope it acts soon and extends the ban period.