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Open Markets Push Fishing Communities into Poverty Says ActionAid

Contact: Sarah Gillam, ActionAid International Media Coordinator, + 44 7738 884014 cell, + 44 207 561 7641; Shafqat Munir, ActionAid Asia Regional Media Coordinator, + 92 320 450 5625 cell, + 92 321 530 5452


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Mar. 21 /Standard Newswire/ -- Hundreds of local fishing communities are being pushed into poverty in Pakistan due to over fishing by international trawlers, according to new research from ActionAid released today.


The warning comes in a report - Taking the Fish – claiming that poor fishing communities in developing countries worldwide could be devastated by moves to open up fishing markets as part of the latest WTO trade talks.


Pakistani fisher groups say trawlers from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan encroach on their local waters and use giant fishing nets to scoop up and deplete fish stocks under Pakistan's policy of opening up its waters to international fleets.


Coastal communities say their right to fish is being violated. They report dramatically reduced catches of local species and now face widespread debt, hunger and deprivation.


"The people are starving," says Tahira Ali, deputy general secretary of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum in Karachi. "They don't have bread to eat and they weep when they come home without fish at night."


Rogue trawlers are accused of using damaging nets and of indiscriminately catching and dumping huge quantities of young, unwanted, or dead fish at sea – leaving less for locals to catch.


"The trawlers have nets one to three kms in length, and the mouth of the net is equal to three American 'Statues of Liberties'," says Mohammad Ali Shah, chair of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum. "They catch all types of fish, and when they sort them 90% is discarded."


Some 90,000 tonnes of fish caught off the coast of Pakistan were exported to China, Japan, the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Germany, the US and UK during 2004. 


Aftab Alam Khan, head of ActionAid's trade campaign, says: "Pakistan's fisher folk go to bed hungry because of predatory trawlers moving in as a result of Pakistan's drive for more trade and exports.


"This case highlights the appalling effects on poor people of unfairly opening up fishing markets. The government must urgently protect the rights of coastal communities."


As G33 trade ministers meet in Jakarta today (Wednesday), ActionAid warns there are moves to cut fish tariffs in the WTO talks, resulting in increased exports and further depletion of fish stocks.


"Rich nations must ditch their aggressive plans on fish tariffs at the WTO, otherwise the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of poor fisher folk could be jeopardised," said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid campaigner and author of the report.