Fisheries plays an important socio-economic role - it supplies cheap and nutritious food, generates employment and income, earns foreign exchange through export, stimulates subsidiary industries. More than six million fishermen and fish farmers in the country depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood.
The harvestable potential of marine fishery resources in the Indian EEZ has been estimated at about 3.9234 million tonnes (mt). About 58 per cent of the resources are available at a depth of 0-50 metres, 35 per cent at 50-200 metre depth and 7 per cent in depths beyond 200 metres. The marine fishing fleet comprises nearly 335 000 craft, which includes about 281 000 traditional craft.
India's inshore waters have been exploited almost to the sustainable level, but the contribution to production from the deep sea has been insignificant. Annual fish production in 1999-2000 was estimated at 5.66 mt — 2.834 mt from the marine sector (against a potential of 3.934 mt), and 2.823 mt from the inland sector against a potential of 4.5 mt. Of the total marine production, about 31.5 per cent comes from the east coast (Bay of Bengal) and 68.5 per cent from the west coast (Arabian Sea).
The major pelagic resources identified for exploitation are coastal tuna, carangid, ribbon fish, mackerel and pelagic shark; and yellow fin tuna and skipjack tuna in the EEZ. Penaeid shrimps, which dominate the export front, are at their optimum exploitation levels. Tuna and cephalopods are the two least exploited fisheries because of the limited operational range of the majority of present fishing fleets and the lack of suitable technology.
Presently, some 25 per cent of the marine fish production is caught by artisanal boats, and 74 per cent by small mechanised boats. Only about one per cent is from the deep-sea fishing vessels now in operation.
India exported marine fish and fish products worth Rs 51 167 million in 1999-2000 against Rs 17 674.3 million during 1992-1993.
The exports go to some 70 countries, with Japan being the single largest market. Imports, so far, are negligible.
Development and management of marine fishery resources poses problems for a number of reasons. The Indian sub-continent covers a vast region with long coastlines and different ecosystems, both on land and in the sea. The fishery resources are diverse; artisanal and small-scale fishermen operate from thousands of landing places dispersed along the coast and live within socially and culturally disparate communities. Responsibilities and programmes for fisheries management and development are split between the Union Government and State/ Union Territory Governments, which differ in their policies, programmes and approaches.
The open-access nature of marine capture fisheries in India is one of the major reasons for depletion, economic waste and conflict among user groups. There are laws that restrict fishing seasons, fishing areas and the mesh sizes of gear, but there is no satisfactory monitoring and surveillance mechanism available to ensure implementation. To avoid over-capitalisation and to ensure sound growth, the country is adopting a rationalised approach to determining the number and size of fishing vessels, the type of fishing gear and operational equipment.
A growth rate of 2.5 per cent has been proposed for marine fisheries during the Tenth Five- Year Plan (2002 - 2007), and a growth rate of 8 per cent for inland open water fisheries and aquaculture development. This will enable a total fish production of 8.09 million tonnes (3.26 million tonnes from the marine sector and 4.83 million tonnes from the inland sector) at the end of the Tenth Plan, according to estimates.