I remember meeting a journalist in Orissa in 2006 for a story on the high turtle mortalities and being told that Greenpeace would be better off protecting the rights of human beings rather than turtles. After all, when it comes to choosing between turtles and the traditional fishermen who are banned by law from fishing in near-shore waters during the turtle season, why must Greenpeace always choose the turtles?
A few months later, at a marine conservation symposium organised by Greenpeace India, attended by a large number of traditional fishermen from coastal states across the country, I was told that Greenpeace seems to be reinventing the wheel (by proposing marine reserves and other conservation measures). It was said that fishermen already know about the benefits of such methods. In fact, they have traditionally practiced closing off some areas to fishing to allow fish stocks to recover. They already know that a healthy marine environment is actually good for their livelihoods.
Now consider how this renders the conflict between turtle and fishermen absolutely pointless (and rightly so).
I have been working with the traditional fishermen in Orissa since last year to break this myth. Thirty villages around the Gahirmatha marine sanctuary have been chosen by the state government for a pilot project under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Program. The project will implement alternative livelihood and income generation options for traditional fishermen. Once operational, this program will provide the fishermen with livelihood options and would also assist in controlling the other issue of overcapacity – a case of too many boats, too few fish.
Greenpeace, together with local groups, has just completed a set of case studies and surveys in 15 fishing villages in the Kendrapra district to collect feedback from the fishing community on alternative income generation options that they think are sustainable and practical. In June, we aim to hold two public hearings in the region to present our survey findings and, together with the community, come up with a set of recommendations for the implementing agencies. This will help ensure that the program that is ultimately implemented is tailor-made to suit the needs of the community and has their support and buy in.
I hope to bring you more updates from the fishing villages in Orissa soon and for the record, when it comes to turtles and fishermen, Greenpeace will continue to choose both.
Image: © Greenpeace/ Ashish Fernandes