The Fishermen's Firebrand Takes on the Fleet

Article excerpt

Father Thomas Kocherry has been catapulted into leading India's 10-million-strong fishing community in its campaign against industrial fleets, shrimp farms and coastal pollution

"The life of the planet and the dependent health and welfare of humanity must not be sacrificed to the greed of the few," declared Father Thomas Kocherry last year on being awarded the Sophie's Prize, created by Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaardner, for his environmental work. Famed for his powerful oratory, this Catholic priest helped to create the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers in 1997, of which he is now a co-ordinator.

The last ten years have been marked by a series of protests by fisherpeople across India, in which you have been deeply involved. Why are fishing communities so angry?

In 1991 India introduced its new economic policy, which marked the beginning of a new deep sea fishing policy. Huge foreign vessels, working under the guise of joint ventures and fees paid to the government, were given licenses and started coming into Indian waters. There are some 25,000 such vessels around the world. They have depleted all the oceans apart from the Indian Ocean, and are a threat to over 100 million people in developing countries who depend on fisheries for their livelihood. So this new policy was clearly going to affect Indian fisherpeople, and probably displace them. Ten million fisherpeople went on four all-India strikes. The government appointed the Murari committee, which made 21 recommendations aimed at changing the entire deep sea fishing policy. These were accepted by the Cabinet, and since 1996, the government has stopped giving new licenses. For probably the first time, a fishing community changed the policy of globalization through protest.

Your movement has also expressed particular concern over shrimp production for export.

First of all, you have to ask why aquacultures [shrimp farms] exist. It's because a particular variety like shrimp, cuttle fish or salmon is already depleted, and is no longer available in the marine sector. …