The Indian government's Letter of Permit (LoP) scheme stands out as the textbook example of how not to manage a fisheries system. In fact, constant abuse of the scheme, too many loopholes and tardy monitoring and implementation has meant that the scheme essentially allows illegal fishing in Indian waters.
It started, like many things going wrong, with good intentions. The Ministry of Agriculture in India apparently intended to help the fishermen of the country by allowing them to use bigger more technical foreign vessels enabling them to fish in deeper waters. The LoP scheme mandated that these foreign vessels would have to have a compulsory and exclusive registration within India, so that they essentially become Indian vessels with Indian owners. And here's where it went wrong.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza's recent visit to India proved to be instrumental in exposing the LoP racket. We managed to find three tuna longliners, all belonging originally to a Taiwanese company, but now under a shell company (a vehicle for business transactions without itself having any significant assets or operations) in India and fishing under the LoP scheme. The captain of the first vessel, who was a Taiwanese man himself, confirmed Long Wang Chan-the company based in Taiwan -owns a fleet of 10 vessels and all of them have been fishing in the Indian EEZ for the past six years. When we looked more closely at the pictures we took of the vessel, we realised that they were even carrying some stencils, a well-known method to paint over the Indian name when the vessel returns to home port! Painting over names is a complete and total violation of the marine shipping rules in India and the LoP scheme. We met two more similar vessels that were owned by the same company in India and the real company in Taiwan.
This is the story of most of the vessels that fish under this scheme. The foreign vessels come to India, fake their registration papers, fish in the Indian waters, export their catch by transferring fish at mid sea to a carrier vessel (which is self-regulated so there is no way of tracking exactly how much fish is being exported out of India). There have been some efforts to bring these malpractices to public attention in the past but since this scam takes place out at sea, no real documentation of it existed so far.
Currently, according to the Ministry's records there are 79 such vessels operating in India right now. The crew of the vessels informed us that one such longliner catches 60-80 tonnes of tuna in a season which worth half a million dollars. The question is: why on earth is the Indian government subsidising overfishing in Indian waters? Your guess is as good as mine.
The ball is in the court of Ministry of Agriculture now. We have shown them the evidence, we have pointed them to the problems with the scheme and we know that it is costing us money and ecological balance. It is their turn to act.