By Suleman Hashim
As soon as the sun rises, Gwadar fish market comes to life with hustle and bustle of a fishing community. Thousands of local fishermen leave for the sea every morning. They usually fish overnight and start returning to the coast early morning the next day.
Locals find a variety of fish nowhere else to be found. They have a special taste for small fish: Gor Surma, White Poplet, Jheenga, Soru, Kampo, Bangrra, Kashk and Mushka.
This is one of the main fish markets of Pakistan, where fishermen from Gwadar sell their catch. The fish dealers buy fish from fishermen and send it to different cities of Makran and Karachi in containers.
As the local people prefer to eat small fish, the larger species are transported to Karachi.
The bigger species of fish caught here are called Pagas, a type of whale. Whales are transported straightaway to Karachi as there is no local consumption of the fish, whereas the smaller species are distributed in different cities of Balochistan and Sindh as well.
In comparison with small boats, the trawlers stay at deep sea for over a month during a single fishing trip. Abdul Jabbar, a fishing boat captain says, “Even a single trip costs from four to five lac rupees, as the crew stays for such a long time. They need ice to keep the fish cold in order to keep it fresh and the crew needs food, fresh water, drinking water, gas cylinders, and of course a lot of fuel.”
Ali Akbar, who works on a small boat says, “We don’t know how much we are going to earn in a specific period of time. Sometimes we make Rs 500 only, normally its Rs 1000, but it could be thousands of rupees overnight. Though, there are sea storms and thin days when we return with an empty vessel. We are always under the loans and advance payments of fish dealers.”
Ibrahim, captains Al-Hijaz a big trawling ship, and hails from a family involved in fish catching business for generations. He said, “We go out to the deep sea for fishing. In a single trip, we catch tonnes of fish worth millions of rupees.”
Another fisherman, who is also named Ali Akbar and a member of Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, spoke to Pak Voices, ““We only hire fishermen, who have valid identity cards and passes from the Fisheries Department and are expert swimmers.”
He further said, “Many of our fishermen unknowingly trespass into the Iranian and Omani territories. They are caught by the Iranian or Omani security and are sent to jail for years. Those who are caught by the Irani forces are sent to Quetta from Zahidan. Later they are handed over to the police here and face a lot of troubles”.
He demanded from the government, “Our fishermen caught by the security should be brought back to Gwadar instead of Quetta and handed over to the police here.”
Hashim another fisherman explained to Pak Voices, “In our boats, we have different types of the net to catch fish of different sizes and species. An average fishing net costs from 100,000 rupees to 200,000 rupees. The nets for trawling ships cost millions of rupees.
K B Baloch who organises Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum talked to Pak Voices, “We demand that the fishermen should be declared labour. They must be provided legal protection.”
He also highlighted other dangers to the sea life and fishermen. “The extensive trawling with advanced technology by foreign companies from Gadani to Jiwani is causing massive damage the sea life.”
He went on to add: “ Diesel spills near Jiwani, close to Iran are causing pollution and killing fish and other sea animals. The whole food chain is disturbed by pollution. A lot fish species have already become extinct. The trawling ships are not allowed to catch fish within the 12 nautical miles of the coast. But they are not abiding by the rules.”
Suleman Hashim is working with PakVoices as a citizen journalist from Gwadar.
All photos by the writer