Relief To TN Fishermen, SC Conditionally Allows Purse Seine Fishing Beyond Territorial Waters Of State

Purse Seine Fishing involves a method where a vertical net attached to a vessel is targeted at dense schools of fish in open water in curtain formation the bottom of which is drawn together to enclose the fish.


In a relief to fishermen of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday conditionally allowed Purse Seine Fishing beyond the territorial waters of the state but within the exclusive economic zone. 

Purse Seine Fishing involves a method where a vertical net attached to a vessel is targeted at dense schools of fish in open water in curtain formation the bottom of which is drawn together to enclose the fish. 

A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted some coastal states like Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Goa and West Bengal have not made any restrictions on Purse Seine Fishing (PSF) within their territorial waters.

"This ban has been imposed by the State of Tamil Nadu and also by the State of Maharashtra. The coastal States are therefore divided on this issue," it noted, adding as far as fishing beyond the territorial waters, but within Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is concerned, Centre has placed no restrictions on this method of fishing. 

The top court said its prima facie opinion is that the interest of all parties needs to be protected, and imposed a slew of conditions including only registered fishing vessels, that is a fishing vessel registered under Section 11 of the Marine Products Export Development Authority Act, 1972 and registered with the state government under rules and regulations currently in force in Tamil Nadu will be given permission to do such fishing.

It said the fisheries department will give permission to only those boats where an approved Vessel Tracking System (VTS) has been installed and which shall be kept running during the operating time of the vessels.  

The top court added that these vessels will be allowed to operate only twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. All other restrictions of non-fishing period will apply to them as applicable to all other fishing activity.

It said the vessels which will be given this permission shall leave the coastline on or after 8 AM and shall return to the designated place positively by 6 PM the same day.

The top court added it will be mandatory for all sailors to keep their biometric card/photo ID with them. It will be compulsory for them to provide the VTS code to the Fisheries Department, Marine Police, Coast Guard and the Indian Navy.

It said the fisheries department of the state shall also give a colour code to these Purse Seine Fishing Boats for the said purposes and the registration number of these vessels shall be prominently displayed on the boat.

"In order to ensure that the vessels have fished only outside the territorial waters of the State, the tracking data of each vessel for each of its trips shall be submitted the same day to the concerned Assistant Commissioner, Fisheries, or such other designated officer, after the vessels reach ashore," the bench said. 

It added that these boats shall be allowed to dock at one or more designated centres earmarked by the fisheries department.

"The State Fisheries Department shall display on its website the permission granted by it for this kind of fishing that is Purse Seine Fishing to such individuals/companies as the case might be and the registration number of each of the vessels," it said.

The top court said, during the hearing, the state government referred to two decisions of this court to canvas that adverse comments were made against Purse Seine Fishing.  

"All the same, considering the subsequent development since 1994 and the stand taken by the Central Government in their affidavits, based on which this restricted interim order is being made, the two decisions are kept open which will be considered when a deeper consideration is made, after further inputs are received by this Court which are based on the report of the Committee to be set up by the Central Government," it said.  

The top court granted the interim relief to the fishermen on an appeal and three writ petitions which raised the common issue of Purse Seine Fishing.

The petitioners, which included fishermen associations,  argued the restriction imposed by the state government in not allowing their fishing vessels to fish beyond its territorial waters was "illegal". They said the state was exercising control in the area which is beyond its jurisdiction. 

The state government has contended that this method of fishing is 'pernicious' and harmful to marine life, including fish.  

It has said PSF is a non-­selective fishing technology which captures all kinds of fish including protected species.

"Moreover, it is a method which is used by affluent and rich fishermen or big fishing companies, as this technology is costly and is beyond the reach of ordinary fishermen. The vast majority of fishermen of the State who are traditionally engaged in fishing for their livelihood cannot afford this technology and depend on traditional method of fishing," the state has said.  

On March 25, 2000, the Fisheries Department of Tamil Nadu had banned, inter alia, the use of Purse Seine Fishing nets within its territorial waters (12 nautical miles or 22 km from the coast line).

The Madras High Court had on February 5, 2019 dismissed a challenge to the order of the state fisheries department.