The Hindu , 10 April 2006

Patrolling intensified in coastal waters

Thiruvananthapuram: The Police, Coast Guard and Marine Enforcement have intensified patrolling in the coastal waters to check the illegal use of underwater explosives, even as the "disruptive" method of fishing threatened to escalate tension between traditional communities along the coast.

The police also carried out search operations in the Vizhinjam area to unearth explosives. No arrests were made. The operation was conducted in the wake of the large-scale use of `thotta,' an improvised explosive device, by a section of fishermen on Saturday. Hundreds of fishing craft from Vizhinjam had defied a ban imposed by the District Collector. The incident had led to tension all along the coast from Poonthura to Perumathura.

District Collector N. Ayyappan said he had issued directions to continue the marine patrolling in the coming days. He said the work of enforcement agencies was hampered by the paucity of high-speed boats and trained manpower to intercept and search fishing vessels carrying explosives. Hired boats were made available for patrolling on Sunday.

T. Peter, State president of Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, said the illegal fishing method was threatening to deplete fish stocks. "Using explosives to enhance catch is an unsustainable practice because it kills all the fish in the immediate vicinity and causes irreparable damage to the marine environment," he points out.

Mr. Peter alleged that the Government had failed to check the stockpiling of explosives by a section of fishermen. "It shows that the ban imposed by the Collector has had no effect on the situation. The fact that the explosives were detonated in the sea off the ISRO campus also raises national security concerns," he said.

Fashioned from gelatine sticks, `thotta' is used to catch fish such as mackerel, tuna and sardine that move in shoals. The detonation kills or stuns thousands of fish, which are then scooped up by the fishermen.

According to C.S.P. Iyer, Head, Centre for Marine Analytical Reference and Standards (C- MARS) under the Department of Ocean Department, the use of underwater explosives could damage the biological environment in the region. "The fish are either killed or scared away by the shock waves emanating from the detonation. This is bound to affect the productivity of the coastal waters and worsen the depletion of fish stocks.