Panaji: Goa will now use gunmen and a patrol boat to guard its fast depleting fish.

With 27 hi-powered and well-equipped fishing boats caught in the seas off the coastal state stealing tonnes of fish over the last three years, the fisheries department has now deployed a patrol vessel as a warning to poachers from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to lay off.

“With a patrol boat, we have a better chance of saving our fish. There have been many instances of fishermen being caught stealing fish from our sea. This is a signal to such robbers,” Fisheries Minister Avertano Furtado told IANS earlier this week while launching the Ave Maria-14 patrol vessel.

Until now, the only vessel owned by the department was a trawler, which was no match for the double-powered boats with which poachers raided Goa’s seas.

A series of raids, coupled with overkill as well as water pollution, which makes the fish seek cleaner waters elsewhere, has made marine scientists fear that Goa, known for its tourism as well as its seafood, is heading for a fish famine.

According to fisheries department records, 27 boats have been caught, many of them by teams of local fishermen, who apprehended the raiders mid-sea over the last three years. The vessels are mostly from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “We have also received reports of such raiding vessels registered in Maharashtra,” Furtado claimed, adding that the Goa police marine wing would also be brought into the loop for protecting the state’s marine resources from being poached.

Officials from the department, however, say that for every raiding boat seized, 10 manage to get away scot free, often with tonnes of catch.

Rogue fishermen from adjoining state of Karnataka and Maharashtra sneak into Goa’s waters with hi-powered teams of two trawlers each, with dragnets between them that stretch hundreds of metres and scoop out tonnes of fish from the bottom of the sea, including young offsprings, and even eggs. This kills the chances of any replenishment of stock.

“It’s called bull-trawling. We have 10 such cases in one year. They sweep a vast area of water and that too right down at the bottom. Eggs and things like that are not spared. That should be avoided,” Monteiro said.

Such raids only make the declining fish catch even worse, according to Menino Afonso, chairman of the Mandovi Fisheries Co-operative Society located near Panaji.

Afonso and his men have often helped the fisheries department apprehend such raiders. He recalls chasing a fleet of four such raiding trawlers from Karnataka last December.

“It was a tough thing. We raced through the water for almost an hour before we saw those Karnataka trawlers and they were loaded with fish. We trapped them and brought them to Goa,” Afonso recalled.

Poachers are often better equipped than regular fishermen.

“While we use the regulation 140 BHP engines, these trawlers had 350 BHP engines, which are illegal, but it also makes them fast and difficult to catch,” Afonso said.

In 2010, Goan fishermen netted 23,831 tonnes of mackerel, a spiny, emerald green fish which has been a steady source of marine protein for generations. Last year, the haul shrunk to virtually half at 12,994 tonnes.

The harvest of sharks, which find their way to tables in Goan homes and restaurants as ‘ambot-tikh’, a red, spicy-sour preparation, have all but disappeared, their haul reducing sharply from 3,159 tonnes in 2010 to 281 tonnes in 2013. The harvest of prawns, one of the fastest selling seafood, served fried or curried or even as adornments in gourmet cocktails, too has decreased from 9,970 tonnes in 2010 to 8,380 tonnes in 2013.

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