Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delist Sea Cucumber and Trochus from Wildlife Act: Report


Delist Sea Cucumber and Trochus 
from Wildlife Act: Report 

By Zubair Ahmed

The Committee constituted to holistically address the issue of poaching in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the MoEF, Govt of India has suggested delisting of species of local livelihood importance like Sea cucumber and Trochus from the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 after due scientific assessment. The report says that the collection of these species could thereafter be allowed based on strict scientific parameters including fixing of quotas, period and season of collection, maturity, reproductive cycles, etc.
The Committee has submitted its report to Government of India which has proposed a three pronged strategy which includes tightening and improving the protection regime for conservation of marine resources, taking care of the livelihoods of local fisher folk, both qualitatively and quantitatively so as to increase their stake in conservation of marine biodiversity, and to open a diplomatic channel with the Government of Myanmar to address the issue of ingress of its illegal fishers (poachers) into the waters and shores of A&N Islands with a view to finding a solution to this problem and stop the illegal practice jointly.
The Islands are very rich in biodiversity, harbouring unique endemic life forms. The marine biodiversity includes marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, dugong; marine turtles; estuarine or salt water crocodile; fishes; prawns and lobsters; corals; sea shells including rare and endangered Trochus species and Giant Clam Shells and numerous other marine life forms including coelenterates and echinoderms etc.
Economically also, many of the above species are highly valuable and some of them such as sea cucumbers, sea-shells, sharks, marine turtles, salt water crocodiles etc. are under severe pressure of over exploitation from illegal foreign fishing boats and poachers. Historically, these species had been exploited by people from neighbouring countries, mainly due to the low protective cover and low priority accorded to conservation of the marine biodiversity in general by the enforcement agencies of the country.
Despite the concerted efforts by various departments and agencies like Wildlife Wing, Coastal Police Stations and Coast Guard, the very availability of rich marine resources attracts foreign poachers to Indian territorial waters. Although, the enforcement agencies routinely apprehend several foreign poachers, it is believed that a large number of them get away undetected. Most of the poachers are habitual offenders and had been in Indian prisons several times. It has been observed that the western part of the Andaman Islands was the most vulnerable to poaching and also that the volume of the poaching has considerably increased over the years inspite of the best efforts by the Administration to contain the problem. Further, it is also believed that the problem of foreign poachers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a long history, and there are a large number of ethnic people of Myanmar origin settled in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These people are believed to be often conniving with the poachers.
It has been observed that although there was good population of Sea Cucumbers in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there were contradicting reports of the status of the species as a whole in the country's waters. Therefore, there is need for carrying out detailed scientific study on the population status of Sea Cucumbers. The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), who has the required wherewithal for carrying out such scientific studies, is being requested for undertaking the study. The report of ZSI would be dovetailed with this report, as soon as the same is received from ZSI. A similar study on Trochus niloticus, would also be taken up.
The reduction in forestry operations has reduced the employment opportunities considerably for the local people of islands. It may be added that this sector was one of the biggest local employers for the last five decades. Subsequent ban on certain marine species after their inclusion in the Scheduled lists of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 has also adversely affected the livelihoods of the fishers community in the last decade.
The Committee recommends adoption of a comprehensive strategy with certain measures to be taken up immediately to curb illegal poaching of precious wildlife.
The committee suggests imparting training to the frontline staff for wildlife management, especially in patrolling and protection of marine areas and its biodiversity, including training in SCUBA diving. 
Procurement of specialized tools and skills for the protection of marine wildlife that will strengthen the enforcement efficiency of the staff in effectively controlling marine poaching. 
Enhancing the incentives to the frontline staff and their families to motivate them to be more dedicated and committed towards their duties.
The enforcement machinery comprising Forest, Wildlife, Revenue, Coastal Police departments and the Coast Guard should also be equipped with specialized infrastructural facilities like mechanized boats, communication equipments, etc to quickly and effectively address poaching.
These Departments should also be provided with adequate manpower and sizable budgetary support to improve human, technological and material resources.
Employment opportunities by filling up 200 posts of Forest Watcher which are lying vacant in the Department due to absence of forestry operations.
Improvement in fishing techniques of fishers through capacity building and training in modern methodologies of fishing including the use of sophisticated fishing gear as well as providing them with such gear.
Capacity building and provisions for adoption of alternative livelihoods by fishers.
The total project financial requirement is estimated at Rs 5946.50 lakhs
The progress made in implementation of the programme will be monitored using target achievement indicators, such as the number of officials trained, number of training programmes conducted, number of poachers apprehended, number/quantity/value of items seized, etc.

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