The Supreme Court yesterday while granting interim relief to the fishermen of Tamil Nadu has conditionally allowed Purse Seine Fishing beyond the territorial waters of the State.

However, the Court has allowed the same within the exclusive economic zone.

The two-Judge Bench comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia while dealing with a batch of petitions observed, “… we are of a prima facie opinion, that interest of all parties need to be protected. Hence, we propose to pass a restricted interim order, allowing the Purse Seine Fishing beyond the territorial waters of Tamil Nadu, but within the Exclusive Economic Zone, with certain conditions.”

Purse Seine Fishing is a method in which a vertical net attached to a vessel is targeted at dense schools of fish in open water in curtain formation the bottom of which is drawn together to enclose the fish.

Advocate Gopal Sankarnarayanan and Advocate Sirajudeen appeared on behalf of the petitioners while Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the State of Tamil Nadu and the Additional Solicitor General K. M. Nataraj appeared for the Union of India.

Facts –

On March 25, 2000, the Fisheries Department of Tamil Nadu banned the usage of Purse Seine Fishing nets within its territorial waters i.e., 12 nautical miles (22 km from the coastline). The Madras High Court on February 5, 2019, dismissed a challenge to the order of the state fisheries department.

The relief sought by the petitioners was to permit them to do fishing with Purse Seine Fishing Nets beyond the territorial waters in the State of Tamil Nadu and a specific prayer was to strike down sub-rule (7) of Rule 17 of Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, 2020. The petitioners were aggrieved by the restrictions imposed by the Tamil Nadu Government.

The question for consideration before the Supreme Court was whether the ban imposed by the State Government within its territorial waters is justified.

The Apex Court while considering the aforesaid question noted, “This ban has been imposed by the State of Tamil Nadu and also by the State of Maharashtra. The coastal States are therefore divided on this issue.”

It was directed by the Court that the Fisheries Department will give permission to such boats only, which are installed with an approved Vessel Tracking System (VTS), which shall be kept running during the operating time of vessels.

“These vessels will be allowed to operate only twice a week i.e., on Monday and Thursday of each week with the other restrictions of non¬fishing period applying as is applicable to all other fishing activity”, the Court further directed.

The Court ordered that the vessels which will be given such permission shall leave the coastline on or after 8 AM and shall return to the designated place positively by 6 p.m. the same day.

“It shall be mandatory for all the sailors to keep their biometric card/photo ID with them. … It shall be mandatory to provide the code of the VTS to the Fisheries Department, Marine Police, Coast Guard and the Indian Navy”, the Court further ordered.

It was also observed by the Court that the fisheries department of the State shall give a colour code to the Purse Seine Fishing Boats for the said purposes and the registration number of such vessels shall be prominently displayed on the boat.

The Court further asserted, “The State Fisheries Department shall display on its website the permission granted by it for this kind of fishing i.e. Purse Seine Fishing to such individuals/companies as the case might be and the registration number of each of the vessels.”

The Court, therefore, while considering the subsequent development since 1994 and the stand taken by the Central Government in their affidavits, based on which the restricted interim order was made, said that the two decisions are kept open which will be considered when a deeper consideration is made.

Accordingly, the Court granted interim relief to the fishermen.

Cause Title- Fisherman Care, Registered Association v. The Government Of India, Department Of Animal Husbandry, Dairying And Fisheries Rep. By Its Secretary & Ors.

Click here to read/download the Order