Environmental Impact of Fisheries in South India

Orange roughy trawler

Written by Sahil Aleem, Jadyn Almeida and Leia Deshpande
Mentored by Sunad M & Malavika Nair


India has one of the world’s largest fishing industries, employing millions and providing large amounts of export revenue to the country. This fishing is regulated through many forms of legislature at different levels of government. Despite this, the industry has a wide array of destructive and harmful social and environmental consequences.

Problems such as overfishing, excess by-catch, and the prevalence of dangerous farm fishing practices plague fisheries in India, leading to a depletion of fish stock and less bountiful harvests. This serves as a threat to both current ecosystems and future economic capacities as the biodiversity in these environments collapse which in turn damages the health of our oceans that we ultimately rely on. Through this brief we will explore these risks, along with providing recommendations for solutions we believe may be useful in combating these, such as restructuring elements of industry through the use of cooperative societies, alternatives to fish to aid in a reduction of demand, and restoration of environments to ensure long term economic productivity.


India’s fishing industry is of tremendous importance to the nation’s people and economy. Fish is an essential part of the Indian diet, providing the population with essential nutrients such as vitamins A, D and B along with omega-3 fatty acids. India ranks third globally in terms of fisheries production, and setes to 1.07% of India’s GDP. It is also responsible for generating export earnings of $334 billion in aquaculture. The industry provides employment to 14.5 million people, with the projected demand expected to increase through the 2021 Financial Year, further adding pressure on already fragile ecosystems. In the 2021 Union budget, the government increased the amount allocated to fisheries by 34 percent. The government expects to invest more than INR 50,000 crore over the next five years in the sector. India has a total marine fisher population of 3.57 million,of which 900,000 are active fishers while 760,000 are involved in other activities within allied sectors. This economic importance is founded on inherently unsustainable practices, and a heavy reliance on healthy fish stocks. However, increasing demand and depletion of resources continue to exacerbate the precarious position of the industry.



Fishing regulation falls under the States’ authority, but the Central government also plays a role. Both legislative groups share the responsibility of regulating fishing while ensuring it remains economically feasible. Inland fisheries are under sole authority of the State Governments, while Marine Fisheries are shared by both Central and State/UT Governments. The States/UTs have jurisdiction over fisheries in sea water within a 12 nautical mile (22km) territorial limit. The Central government can exercise jurisdiction over areas beyond 12 nautical miles (22km) up to 200 nautical miles (370km), within India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Regulatory Legislation

Acts that govern the fishing industry in India include the Environment (Protection) Act (1986), Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act (1974), Wild Life Protection Act (1972), and the Indian Fisheries Act (1897).

State governments also enact regulations of their own. For example, states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have a ban on fishing for mechanized fishing boats during the monsoon season, during which many fish breed. Illegal fishing is considered a non-cognizable offence, although amendments are being suggested to change them to being cognizable. The states also make use of fines to enforce these fishing laws. State-level situations such as cooperative farming societies can also be beneficial, by providing more equitable working conditions to workers and collaborative effort to help sustain the environment. Such models are already being used in some Southern states.


While fishing is of great importance, there are several systemic problems that the industry faces. The industry relies on wild coastal and inland environments as well as domestic farms that have a host of issues. Coastal areas use practises such as trawling and net fishing, while farms practice aquaculture. In order to ensure food security for the population, as well as support fishing communities and environmental sustainability, it is imperative that we address the following issues promptly. 

Overfishing ecosystems

All wild marine environments are fished to their maximum capacity or overfished. The demand in fish exhausts vital environments and results in less bountiful hauls in the long term, as the fish are not given enough time to mate and mature before being fished. 


By-catch is the unintentional effect of fishing in large quantities. Species such as sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and other fish species that aren’t commercial end up being caught in the nets. Since they have no commercial value, they are either discarded back into the water after being killed. Trawling in particular produces as much as 50% of by-catch out of all caught fish. Trawling also destroys existing environments like coral reefs and seabeds. Restricting areas that vessels are allowed to trawl, and limiting the amount of coral or sponge they pull as bycatch can help reduce the impacts of trawling.

Fish farming

Fish farming is practised in closed pens and relies on chemical supplement and a large amount of fish feed that inadvertently relies on the wild fishing business. The chemical supplements pollute the surrounding water and the waste created by the fish in small, stressful pens also affect the surrounding environment. The fish reared are also grown in unsanitary spaces that usually result in the spread of disease, wasting resources for the fish to be thrown away as waste. Permaculture is another viable solution, that meets the demand for seafood while renewing the environment by growing and maintaining the marine food chain.

Long term problems

The ocean relies on its biodiversity and complex structure to be able to thrive, serve as a carbon lock, and stabilize the climate. From algae, to blue whales, the dependency on our natural environments and natural diversity remain key to our stable climate. In order to ensure that these are not depleted, it is essential to reduce demand for fish and fish products. One way to do this is to invest in the research and development of alternatives to fish such as seafood or crustaceans like shellfish.

Human activities from satellites to agriculture depend on this stability maintained by this complex system. Our current practises devastate the ecosystems we depend on and in return we have unpredictable weather, meagre harvests, and calamities that affect millions of people around the world. Maintaining our marine and inland environments is insurance for the future. 


Below are some possible solutions to tackle this problem:

  1. Investment and research into alternative products for consumption such as seaweed and shellfish. Opting for alternatives like these help reduce demand for fish, thereby putting less pressure on already-strained fisheries. Some forms of fish alternatives also help to provide the nutritious benefits of eating fish, such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
  2. Practises like permaculture could restore the environment while also producing enough products to match demand, such as fish, seaweed and shellfish all together. This maintains the environment for the future, and estimates suggest that the demand for fish can be met without devastating ecosystems.
  3. Structural changes to the fishing industry are also required in order to maximise production while ensuring the process remains environmentally friendly. For example, the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies follow a cooperative model with a federal structure. Skill development training is also important for many subsistence fishermen, to ensure they use efficient and safe techniques while fishing.

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