Fishery Trade in the Trap of Pirates of the Sea



The fishery sector contributes a significant role in national income and its growth in the recent past also witnessed impressive outcomes. However, the fishery trade is facing some prominent encounters in terms of illicit, unregulated and unreported trading hampering the sector. The present article highlights the concerns related to the above-mentioned encounters and suggests transparency should be ensured via proper mechanisms and legislative structures that will regulate fishery laws and policies.


According to the National Fishing Development Board fishery is an economic activity that includes harvesting fish or any aquatic organism from the wild (Capture Fisheries) or raising them in confinement (Culture Fisheries/ Aquaculture). It may be Traditional/ Small Scale Fisheries (SSF) for sustenance, or Large-Scale/ Commercial Fisheries for profit.

India is considered the second largest fish-producing country after China accounting for 7.56 per cent of global production (Economic Survey 2021-22, pg. 279). It contributes about 1.24 per cent to the country’s GVA (National Accounts, 2021-22) and over 7.28per cent to the agricultural GVA.

Since 2014-15 the fisheries sector has witnessed a double-digit average annual growth of 10.87 (Economic Survey 2021-22, pg. 279) per cent with fish production of 145 lakh tons in FY 2020-21 (provisional). The fishery sector ensures employment and livelihood to about 28 million people in India (Economic Survey, 2021-22, pp. 253), especially the marginalized and vulnerable communities. Illegal, Unregulated, and Unprotected fish trading is a common site these days that in turn adversely impact ocean quality, livelihood, and economy in return.

Legal but Unregulated Trade

Unregulated fishing refers to fishing activities in areas where there are no applicable management measures to regulate the catch; in India trade in one such endangered species of fish (Zebra Loach) that are endemic to Western Ghats particularly Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu. Due to their distinctive stripes, they are being traded in large quantities which results in their extinction and unsustainability. Moreover, they are good tank cleaners, peaceful species that can breed with multiple species without harming others, requires less maintenance, and have a long lifespan.

Due to these unique features global aquarium trade of Zebra Loach is being witnessed with Singapore  (73.05%) (Tapkir, Far from home: Tracking the global ornamental fish trade in endangered zebra loach, Botia striata, from freshwater ecoregion and a biodiversity hotspot in India) being its major importer and Kolkata (58.75%).

(Tapkir, Far from home: Tracking the global ornamental fish trade in endangered zebra loach, Botia striata, from freshwater ecoregion and a biodiversity hotspot in India) contributing to a major exit point from India. Trading of Zebra Loach is legal but unregulated, due to this loophole these species are on the verge of being extinct as maximum trade (60% approx.) (Tapkir, Far from home: Tracking the global ornamental fish trade in endangered zebra loach, Botia striata, from freshwater ecoregion and a biodiversity hotspot in India) is done during the breeding season which increases the risk of their extinction.

Figure1: Spots where Zebra Loach fish are endemic in India

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Source: Authors Creation based on data from Tapkir et al, (2021). Far from home: Tracking the global ornamental fish trade in endangered zebra loach, Botia striata, from freshwater ecoregion and biodiversity hotspot in India. Journal for Nature Conservation, 61.

Figure2: Export of Zebra Loach in terms of quantity exported(tonnes) and value of export (Rs/Lakh) over the years

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Source: Ministry of Commerce, GoI

Over the years from 1996 to 2017, there was an increase in the quantity and value of exports signalling proper maintenance and reporting of export cases as well as ensuring a check on the number of species being traded.

During 2016-17 there has been a tremendous increase in the value of export because of the introduction of various welfare measures introduced by GoI such as the introduction of Blue Revolution which gave a boost to the fishery sector but after 2017 there has been a drastic decline in the export of Zebra Loaches raising concerns for its under-reporting and exploitation of species resulting in maximization of their profits. Thus the impact of the blue revolution was short-term, to make it sustainable continuous advancements need to be made for the development of the fishery industry.

Illegal Trading

According to Multilateral Environmental Agreements, illegal trade refers to the transboundary movement of species without the notification and consent of the concerned authorities and states. The Asian Pacific and the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa are the places where illegal fishing is causing the biggest revenue losses for local economies. (Katharina Buchholz, The Oceans Suffering Most From Illegal Fishing). 

In India according to PLFS (2021-22), the fishery sector provides livelihood to about 2.23 million of the total workforce and out of which it comprises 81% of the male population and 19 % of the female population making it a total of 33.2%. Analyzing the composition and scope of the fishery sector various training programs and workshops should be organized by the government that will provide skill enhancement to the marginal communities especially women.

But, illegal trading of fish is a rising concern that needs to be dealt with carefully otherwise, it will act as a road blocker in the livelihoods of around 33% of the population.

Various illegal activities are flourishing in the fishery sector such as the illegal catching of fish by fishermen by crossing borders because of their knowledge and skills to cross borders undetectably, maintaining friendly relations with the people who work at ports where vessels of catching fish are landed for illicit purposes so that fish stock can be exploited for unauthorized purposes such as money laundering, corruption and illegal trafficking that depletes the valuable fish stocks and threatens the sustainability of marine life, thus in return reduces the revenue for law-abiding fisherman and ensuring competitive edge to illegal businesses.

Unreported Trading

In the words of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), unreported fishing means fishing activities that have not been reported, or have been misreported, by the vessels to the relevant national authority. There are numerous marine species that are endangered in India. Some of the endangered and threatened species according to the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) are Puntius Stoliczkanus, Raiamas Guttatus, Silonia Silondia, Botia striata, etc. 

The FAO remarked that unreported and illegal fishing are responsible for the loss of 11–26 million tons of fish each year, and estimated that 1 in every 5 fish caught, came from Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing. This unreported trading is also causing a threat on food security as 60 per cent of the Indian population consumes fish (Shyam, et al. 2013) with the variation in consumption patterns depending upon the terrain where they are living and types of activity in which they are engaged.

The annual per capita consumption of fish for the entire Indian population is estimated at 5-6 kg whereas for the fish-eating population it is found to be 8-9 kg. Average annual per capita fish consumption is highest in Kerala state at 30 kg (Shyam, et al. 2015). But because of IUU activities in the fishing sector Indian consumers are forced to buy fish from unhygienic markets and vendors. So, this issue needs to be addressed as despite being the second largest producers and self-sufficient in fish production Indian people have to depend on outside markets that can hinder the growth of the economy.

Channels of IUU Trading

There are three major channels of illicit trade in fish:

  • One of the major channels is via ship transshipments that include offloading catches from varied fishing boats at a common place and collecting them into large freezers and processing ships at sea that ensure proper and transparent accounting of the origin and authenticity of catches become illegal and impossible to trace.
  • The second loophole is in export mechanisms as to how seafood is transported, various traders use large refrigerators that are not subject to less reporting and inspection.
  • The third channel is the illegal supply of seafood in domestic markets that are export dominated so the the source of seafood can’t be recognized.

Figure 3: Various Channels of IUU trading of Fish

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Source: Authors Creation

What has been Done?

Fishery Sector is considered to be the “Sunrise Sector” due to its double-digit growth since 2014-15 and catering to the employment needs of about 28 million people. Fish is also considered to be a cheap source and affordable source of animal protein with numerous benefits and has the potential for future growth and positive contribution towards the country’s GDP. Seeking this various initiatives, have been undertaken by the GoI to promote the fishery sector and Blue Revolution.

  1. On September 10th, 2020, Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) Yojana was launched which has the highest total investment of about Rs. 20,050 crores. Under this focus was made on the increasing area under inland fishery about 2,983 Ha., area under marine fisheries along with the development of fishermen by providing them with boats and nets along with livelihood and nutritional support to 6,58,462 fishers’ families for conservation of fisheries resources during fishing ban/lean period and development of infrastructure in fishing and aquaculture.
  2. Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) was created with total funds size of Rs 7522.48 crore in order to provide concessional finance to the Eligible Entities (EEs), including State Governments/Union Territories and State entities for the development of identified fisheries infrastructure facilities through Nodal Loaning Entities (NLEs) namely (i) National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), (ii) National Cooperatives Development Corporation (NCDC) and (iii) All scheduled Banks.
  3. Under Atmanirbhar Bharat Package, The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, announced Rs.2 lakh crore concessional credit boost to Rs.2.5 crore farmers including fishers and fish farmers under Kisan Credit Card (KCC) Scheme.

The Budget 2023-24 also provides encouraging and optimistic trends towards the development of the fishery sector as various initiatives were announced such as the Development of 5 Major Fishing harbours as the hub of economic activities in the areas of Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Paradip, and Petuaghat that will increase the income of the fishermen. Various training sectors has been developed by state governments to provide training against various diseases and risk associated with the introduction of live aquatic animals.

Despite, several steps taken by GoI, risk and conspiracy associated with illegal, unreported and unregulated trade can’t be eliminated.


  1. According to data from National Accounts Statistics, there has been a considerable increase in the value of the output of fishing and aquaculture from Rs. 80,10,453 lakhs in 2011-12 to Rs. 1,59,09,495 lakhs in 2020-21 predicting that this sector has a promising future so government should ensure proper mechanization for reporting illegal, unregulated and unreported activities so that authenticity and proper channel be ensured for trade in the fishery sector and true motive of blue revolution can be maintained.
  2. Proper awareness campaigns and workshops should be organized with the local people and fishermen by educating them on the ill effects of unregulated, unreported and illegal fishing. So that they form a strong community against fraud and illegal businesses that exploit fish which will subsequently result in reducing unregulated and unreported fishing.
  3. Since illegal fishing is not considered a serious and heinous crime so proper and strict legislation, regulations and legal laws should be made in order to conserve our marine ecosystem.


Development in the fishery sector has trajectory growth trends that can help us achieve a blue sustainable, and stable future and economy with the help of advancements in technology and better transportation facilities for export that are properly regulated via a transparent mechanism that can curb the menace of unreported and unregulated fishing trade.

Moreover, illegal fishing is not considered as a crime because it lacks the attention of the officials due to its nature not being understood by the authorities. In order to overcome this, a coordinated criminal force mechanism should be ensured with proper monitoring and scanning then only we can achieve ecologically healthy, economically viable, and socially inclusive development of the Fisheries sector of India.


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Bhanvi Bansal is a Research Intern at IMPRI.
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