Fisheries Co-operatives in India (1997)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
Oct, 1997
(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.7, No.2, May-Aug. 1997, pp. 28)

Fisheries Co-operatives in India
by B.K. Mishra

Co-operatives are the shield of the weak and in India fisher-men are
among the weakest sections of the community. Illiteracy, poverty,
and lack of knowledge of latest fisheries technology are contributing
factors.  This vicious circle is further strengthened by lack of institutional
support, both in infrastructure and finances. Consequently, fishermen are
subjected to exploitation by middlemen, who act as money lenders, traders
and contractors.

Fishermen discovered co-operatives could spare them from exploitation
and improve their socio-economic conditions. Efforts made in this
direction have yielded good results in some areas, but the overall picture
of fishery co-operatives is not encouraging.

During the last few years tremendous development has taken place in
the fishery sector. In the inland fishery sector, fish farmer development
agencies have been created and the inland fish production has increased.
The introduction of a World Bank Project covering five states has also
developed inland fisheries, particularly in the field of seed production.
Similarly, the marine fishery put emphasis on deep sea fishery and
mechanisation of fisheries including introduction of larger vessels.
Landing and berthing facilities were increased and constant efforts are
being made to build infrastructure and promote exports.

India's Fishery Scenario

India is the seventh largest fishing nation in the world and holds big
potential in the fishery sector. The country is endowed with 8,000
kilometres of coastline and 2.02 million square kilometres of perennially
clear, mercury free water within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The marine resources of the EEZ are comprised of shrimps, lobsters,
crabs, tuna, squid, pomfret and most of other varieties of fish. For
exploitation of the fishery resources from the sea, the country has a fleet
which includes 181,000 country boats, 35,000 mechanised boats, nearly
400 purseseiners and 174 fishing vessels including a few tuna long liners.

In the inland sector, the country has more than 27,000 kilometres of rivers,
a very wide network of canals which are nearly 145,000 kilometres,
reservoirs and lakes covering 2.9 million hectares and fresh water ponds
which are nearly 1.5 million hectares.

Lately, the country has embarked upon a big programme to develop
brackish water fishery. When fully developed, this may also cover an
area of about 1 million hectares.

India's Fishery Resources

The potential yield from the Indian EEZ is estimated at 3.9 million tonnes,
2.59 million tonnes from the Arabian Sea including Lakshadweep, 1.01
million tonnes from the Bay of Bengal including Andaman Sea and around
0.3 million tonnes from oceanic resources. The present yield is 2.57 million

Presently, more than 90 per cent of the fish landings are inshore up to the
50 metre zone. The inshore exploitation is largely by the country crafts
and small mechanised boats using a variety of gears such as trawl nets,
purseseiners, gill nets. There are about 1.8 lakh traditional boats, few of
them motorised and about 35,000 small mechanised trawlers. 174 deep sea
fishing vessels were added during the last decade.

The marine fishery operations are proposed to be supported by six major
fishery harbours (four commissioners), 36 minor fishery harbours (17
commissioned) and 113 landing centres (82 commissioned).


Of the total inland fish production estimated at 1.8 million tonnes, about
60 per cent is contributed by the pond culture sector. The country has
earmarked a big programme to develop brackish water fishery. Special
emphasis has been put on riverine fisheries, reservoir, fisheries, wetland
fisheries, and estuarine fisheries.

Indian Fishery Co-operative Movement
The fishery co-operative movement in India began in 1913 when the first
fishermen's society was organised under the name of 'Karla Machhimar
(Fishermen) Co-operative Society' in Maharashtra. The state of West
Bengal was the next to organise co-operative societies in the fishery sector
in 1918. In the same year, Tamil Nadu, also organised one co-operative
society. The structure continued to grow over years into multi-functional
units at the primary level, federations at district/regional, state and national
levels. Today there are:

-		National Level Federation	1
-		State Level Federations 	17
-		Central (District/ Regional
		Level Federations	108
-		Primary Societies	9369

The membership at the primary level is 0.9561 million.

A study conducted by the Council for Social Development confirmed
the suitability of the fishery co-operatives, "as a tool for promoting the
interests of fishermen."  The study also emphasised the need for,
"organising active fishermen into co-operatives and for strengthening and
encouraging the fishermen's co-operative societies for performance of
multi-purpose functions and social interest of their members". To ensure
that a well-knit structure of fishery co-operatives is created in the country,
the study recommended that, "multi-functional primary co-operatives can
be retained".

In some of the states, the fishery co-operative movement is working very
effectively and a number of evaluations have confirmed the efficiency of
these organisation. One evaluation confirmed that arrangements of
marketing made by the fishery co-operatives in the states of Maharashtra
save the members from exploitation.

A number of fishery co-operatives in the country are helping their
members and their family members to the extent of providing complete
marketing infrastructure for the sale of the catch at remunerative prices.

National Federation of Fishermen's Co-operatives
National Federation of Fishermen's Co-operatives Ltd., (FISHCOP FED
began in 1982. Its goal is to facilitate the fishing industry in India through
co-operatives.  Within a short period of its active functioning,
FISHCOPFED  entered a number of activities, both business and
promotional, including organising conferences, supporting training
initiatives, facilitating exchanges, demonstrating new technologies,
introducing marketing techniques, liaising with member organisations, and
providing health care and insurance programs.

Problems and Solutions in the Fishery Co-operative Sector 
The co-operative fisheries sector in India faces crucial problems.

Existing co-operative law does not support fisheries co-operative
development. Countries like Japan and South Korea have special
enactments which guarantee allotment of fishing waters to fisheries
co-operatives and ensure membership of genuine active fishermen.
The law defines the roles within fisheries co-operatives. 

In most of states special provisions in the Co-operative Societies Act
or a separate Act for Co-operative Land Development Banks (now
known as Agricultural and Rural Development Banks) exist. In order
to promote fisheries, the State Governments should formulate separate
provisions for fisheries co-operatives within the Act or enact separate
legislation to allot water bodies and avoid overlapping operation, finances,
structural linkages among fisheries co-operatives in the state.

Those states which have not yet organised a federation of fisheries
co-operatives should begin one with sufficient equity to take up business
and promotional activities for fisheries co-operatives in the state. Existing
state level federations must be activated.

At the regional level, the gap is very wide in these states. In light of the
establishment of fish farmer development agencies inland and brackish
water fisheries, it is necessary to organise regional/district level fisheries
co-operative federations to provide inputs, operational inputs, harvesting
and marketing support to the members of primary fisheries co-operatives
and fish farmers.

At the primary level in most states fisheries co-operatives overlap. This
results in unhealthy competition between them, particularly for water
bodies. State governments should take necessary steps to correct this, and
to organise/re-organise the existing primary level fishery co-operatives.

It should also issue clear-cut instructions to allot water bodies to re
organised co-operatives so that they may have necessary fishing water to
provide employment to their members.

In the marine sector, the primary fisheries co-operatives should be
strengthened with infrastructure facilities like landing centres, market
yards, roads, transport facilities. Fisheries co-operatives should be given
necessary support to pull their catch and have access to strong export
infrastructure with qualified staff.

The National Co-operative Development Corporation has revised its
pattern of assistance to fisheries co-operatives.  Poverty in fishing
communities in the country necessitates liberalization of norms for
fisheries co-operatives and provides support through low interest rates.

Women play a very important role in fisheries co-operatives.  Once the
fishermen bring in the catch, their job begins. Co-operative law does not
allow membership of both husband and wife, which prevents women from
participating in the management of the fisheries co-operatives. 

Women involved in the fishery must participate in the management of
fisheries co-operatives. The Ardhanareeswaran Committee have
recommended joint membership of husband and wife in co-operatives.
This may be implemented.

Co-operative banks and other financial institutions have not helped to
develop fisheries co-operatives in most of the states. Financial aid is often
not available where it is needed, like payment of lease money, welfare and
credit. NABARD should also take immediate steps to encourage
co-operative banks to provide credit to fisheries co-operatives where
itwill be most effective.

To market fish profitably, ensuring a fair price for both producers and
consumers, co-operative marketing in India must be strengthened. For this
purpose, marketing infrastructure must be developed.  Funding for
infrastructure should be provided by central, State and local bodies, then
handed over for management to fisheries co-operatives.

There is a need to coordinate the Government of India and state
governments to achieve continued growth in the fishery co-operative
sector which is so vital to the economy and poor people. 

B.K. Mishra is Director of the FISHCOPFED in New Delhi.