Originally published on PakVoices Pasni website in Urdu
Translation by Salman Latif
Balochistan’s 780-kilometer coastline extends from Jeevani to Gaddani. The sea adjoining this coastline was once called the Arabian Sea but after a recent resolution in Balochistan assembly, it has been unanimously renamed as the Baloch Sea.
According to a careful estimate, nearly 8000 to 10000 boats operate in these waters, associated with the fishing industry. The fishermen of these areas run their boats ashore at several points along the coastline. Most of them land at Gwadar, Pasni and Sonmiani.
Balochistan’s fishermen generally rely on small boats for their catches. These boats are typically no longer than 15 feet. Fishermen from Pushkan, Jeevani, Ganz, Kalmat, Ormara and other coastal areas go fishing every day and return to the coast every evening. Once ashore, they sell their catch in the local market where fish companies purchase them and in turn, sell them in the international markets.
Nearly half a million people’s daily bread is directly linked with their access to the waters of Baloch sea. If one were to account other people indirectly associated with the fishing industry, this number doubles.
Apart from smaller boats, larger launches also fish in the Baloch sea. These launches are usually equipped with sophisticated technology are stay in the seas for periods of up to a month. During such fishing trips, the launches store their catch in on-board cold storage. The average of these larger launches range from 10 million to 30 million rupees. To fish, the launches usually have to use expensive nets which are locally made in Makran and are also imported from Karachi and Iran.
Large launches are also manufactured along the coast near Gwadar. The manufacturing goes on in the Easy Bay of the city and employs local laborers. Although selling such launches is a fairly profitable business, the laborers employed are not very well off. When I asked a laborer working on launch-manufacturing in Gwadar, he told me,
“I have spent 35 years of my life making launches and boats and I earn a daily wage of 800 rupees from it. But that is barely enough to sustain my family.”
He further said that the government needs to support this local boat and launch-making industry.
Fiber-glass boats are also used to fish not far from the coast. These kind of boats are imported from Iran. Another source of new ships is the Gaddani Ship-breaking yard where huge ships are broken down and some of their parts are used to create small boats which are then sold to the local fishermen.
Fishing is one of the predominant occupations of the population along the Makran coast. One of the key reasons behind this is the lack of alternate career options. Moreover, most fishermen’s ancestors have been engaged in fishing as the source of their bread for centuries, so they are deemed experts and decide to turn their expertise into a lifelong occupation.
The downside of this tradition is that young kids and boys, from an early age, are found engaged in fishing as their career. Because of this, they don’t find time nor the need for an education. In rural coastal areas, kids as young as 12 go fishing in the sea with the elders while it is also the occupation of thousands of youngsters below the age of 18.
When I asked a fishermen as to why he doesn’t educate his kids, he replied,
“What would my kid do with education? He has to go to the sea once he grows up, so why not take him along today. When I grow old, his experience will help him succeed and he will share my burden.”
In view of thousands of degree-holder unemployed, educated youth of Balochistan, it makes sense that people are generally not very appreciative of such an education.
Along Balochistan’s coast, there is another type of fishermen who don’t use boats. These fishermen through their nets into the water right by the shore and then whatever their catch is by the end of the day, they sell it to earn enough for daily bread.
Baloch Sea provides fishermen with many rare types of prawns and fishes which are priced fairly high in the international market. However, these prawns and fishes are purchased from the local fishermen at incredibly low prices.
The result is that the fishermen barely have enough resources to meet their basic needs and are unable to afford any modern facilities. While the national economy makes millions of dollars by importing their catch, no one is ready to address the plight of the fishermen and offer them greater benefits.
Many fishermen lose their lives at the sea each year due to inadequate safety. One of the reasons of this too is that most fishermen can’t afford to spend a lot on safety gear during fishing. Unlike in other public losses of lives, the government doesn’t offer any compensation to the families of the victims in this case which only compounds the problem.
Fishing has been a thousands of years old occupation of the populations spread across the Makran coast. In other parts of the world, fishing has evolved and improved and today it employs a number of cutting-edge techniques, tools and technologies. In Balochistan, the government has done little to promote the industry. Other countries earn billions of dollars from the fisheries exports while the potential of Pakistan’s fisheries industry has an immense potential to grow, only if the government deigns to develop and regulate it with better policies.
The fishermen in Balochistan lament that they aren’t officially categorized as laborers. Being denied even this status, the fishermen are essentially deprived of the little few benefits that such official categorization may offer. It is natural, then, that one of the key demands of the fishermen along Makran coast is to be given the status of laborers.
They also demand that government make smaller ports all along the coast so that fishermen should have ample options to land, especially on unexpectedly stormy days. Moreover, they ask that the government provides sufficient opportunities for their kids in the form of fisheries centers and institutes so that the industry could be modernized in step with the rest of the world.