India has close to 2,60,000 registered fishing vessels. These include deep-sea fishing vessels (61), motorised mechanical vessels (62,130), motorised non-mechanical vessels (1,40,272) and non-motorised/traditional boats (55,748). These boats operate from 1,265 marine fish landing centres along the 7,516.6 kilometre (km) Indian coastline. Overall, it is estimated that around 54,00,000 fishers are employed full time with the fisheries industry. The Gross Value Added (GVA) of the fisheries sector—one of India’s blue economy sectors— in the national economy in 2018–19 was Rs 2,12,915 crore, accounting for 1.24 per cent of the total national GVA. From 2014–15 to 2018–19, the average growth rate of the fisheries sector has been 10.88 per cent. In financial year 2019–20, India exported 12,89,651 metric tonnes of seafood worth US$ 6.68 billion (Rs 46,663 crore), and the government’s target is to reach Rs 1 lakh crore worth of exports by 2025. As per the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report of 2020 on the state of world fisheries and aquaculture, India accounts for 6 per cent of global capture fisheries and is ranked fourth after China (15 per cent), Indonesia and Peru (both 7 per cent). India is also the fourth largest exporter of fish since 2017, after China, Norway, and Vietnam.
The aim of fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) is to promote sustainable utilisation of the fishery resources available to a country and is a key element of a country’s fisheries management plan. MCS measures also facilitate conservation, law enforcement and security. The three elements of MCS include: (i) monitoring (measurement of fishing effort and resource yields); (ii) control (regulatory conditions); and (iii) surveillance (observation required to maintain compliance with the regulatory controls). Surveillance, in particular, also has an enforcement dimension and includes, inter alia, prevention of poaching and illegal fishing. Comprehensive MCS encompasses the entire spectrum of activities from before a fishing vessel sails out till it returns and lands its catch, and also includes post-landing activities. Typically, MCS related activities, which are undertaken ashore and at sea, include licensing; record-keeping; tracking systems, such as Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), or equivalent system; on-board observer programmes; vessel boarding and inspections; implementation of port state measures; etc. Some of the essential elements of an MCS system include, among others, installation of VMS; establishing a fisheries monitoring centre for the continuous monitoring of VMS data; and, adequate inspection capacity for the control of fishing operations, including landings and transhipments. Gaps in fishery management practices, including MCS, could led to sanctions, such as by the European Union.
In 2008, the UN General Assembly identified Illegal, Unreported And Unregulated (IUU) fishing as one of the specific challenges to maritime security; but notably, the UN Security Council Presidential Statement on maritime security of August 2021, while making a reference to “other illicit activities,” does not make a specific mention of IUU fishing. The Indian Maritime Security Strategy (2015) also recognises IUU fishing as a non-traditional threat to maritime security. In addition to IUU fishing, fishing vessels are often used to commit other forms of maritime crime, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, piracy and armed robbery.
As per the FAO, inadequate MCS is often associated with IUU fishing, and as a corollary, could also be associated with other crime involving fishing vessels. Conversely, robust MCS is a deterrent for IUU fishing and other forms of maritime crime and engenders maritime security. MCS can also contribute towards developing an understanding of the fisheries sector and thereby is a facilitator for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), which, in turn, is widely considered as a sine qua non for maritime security. Strengthening fisheries management, particularly MCS, can therefore contribute significantly towards promoting maritime security in India. This article attempts to examine the history and trajectory of MCS in India, primarily from a maritime safety and security perspective, and makes suggestions on the future course.
MCS in India: Policy Pronouncements
The Marine Fishing Policy, 2004 highlighted that “enforcing monitoring control and surveillance system (MCS) would be ensured.” A decade later, in 2014, an expert committee constituted for a comprehensive review of deep-sea fishing policy and guidelines, under the chairpersonship of Dr B. Meenakumari, Deputy Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research(ICAR), acknowledged that a sound MCS can improve fisheries management and reduce IUU fishing. The committee drew on the recommendations made earlier by a working group on an MCS structure for India as part of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012–17). These included: setting up MCS divisions at both the Centre and in all the states; issuance of biometric cards and creation of fishers database; mandatory registration of all fishing vessels, irrespective of type; colour coding of boats; fitment of Global Positioning System (GPS), Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Distress Alert Transponder (DAT) for improved safety and tracking; setting up of harbour-based MCS units/MCS committees comprising representatives of fishing associations; awareness campaigns; etc. The Meenakumari Committee endorsed the need for strengthening MCS, and also recommended installation of VMS for deep-sea fishing vessels. However, as per subsequent media reports, the recommendations of the committee were “withdrawn.”
The centrally sponsored scheme—Blue Revolution (Neeli Kranti)—introduced in 2015–16 had an MCS component, which included amongst others the continuation of issuance of biometric identity cards to fishers, fishing vessel registration, and importantly, upgrade of the 166 registration centres into Fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Centres (FMCS). The National Policy on Marine Fisheries, 2017 also highlighted the role of MCS in fisheries management. It envisaged a phased approach to strengthening MCS functions by introducing chip-based smart registration cards, use of log books and movement tokens, colour coding of fishing vessels, issuance of biometric cards, as well as the use of space and Information And Communication Technologies (ICT), such as AIS/VMS. The draft National Fisheries Policy, 2020 too emphasises on the need for setting up MCS systems, and for greater engagement amongst all stakeholders. In addition, it proposes setting up of a National Marine Fisheries Authority, inter alia, for implementation of MCS measures. In a similar vein, the draft policy framework for India’s Blue Economy, recommends strengthening MCS in order to “track the movement of fishing vessels in order to know where and when the fish are caught, how, and by whom” as one of the recommendations for increasing sustainable marine capture fisheries in accordance with UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 (Life below water).” 
In May 2020, the Cabinet approved the PRADHAN MANTRI MATSYA SAMPADA YOJANA (PMMSY), a five-year programme for sustainable and responsible development of fisheries sector in India, with an investment of Rs 20,050 crore spread over a five-year period. The investment is shared by the Centre, states, and beneficiaries. The aim of the project includes developing a robust fisheries management and regulatory framework, and also seeks convergence with programmes under Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Department of Space for MCS implementation, including through satellite-based tracking and satellite communication. The plan also envisages improving safety of fishers at sea and upgrading of fishing harbours and landing centres.
Strengthening MCS: Incremental Progress
Traditionally, the fisheries sector was not directly associated with maritime security; as such, maritime security itself is a contemporary concept. However, subsequent to the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, the erstwhile Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DADF) and fisheries departments in states were integrated into coordinating forums for coastal (and maritime) security. On 05 February 2019, the Department of Fisheries (DoF) was carved out of the DADF, under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, for dedicated focus on the fisheries sector. The DoF is responsible for policy formulation and schemes relating to promotion and development of fisheries in India, including infrastructure development and central fisheries institutes. Some of the significant initiatives taken towards strengthening MCS in India in the past decade are enumerated next:
In 2009, the erstwhile DADF launched a scheme for the issuance of biometric Marine Fisheries Identity Card (MFID) to marine fishers and for creation of a National Marine Fishers Database (NMFD).
In 2011, it was decided to roll out a pan-India portal, the ReALCraft (Registration and Licensing of Fishing Craft), for online registration of fishing vessels and licensing for fishing.  The portal is the centralised repository for registration and licensing information, and stakeholders, including maritime security agencies, have been provided access to the portal.
In 2014, the Centre delegated the powers of registration, survey and classification of Indian fishing vessels (irrespective of size or length) to the fisheries department of coastal states/union territories.
In 2017, the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) developed a Geographic Information System (GIS) database of all fish landing centres with associated details.
In 2019, it was decided the marine fishers venturing into the sea should carry QR code-based Aadhar cards.
In 2020, a specialised wing of the Tamil Nadu Police—the Marine Enforcement Wing (MEW)—commenced functioning for enforcement of the state fisheries legislation; Tamil Nadu became the second state to have a dedicated wing after Kerala, which had raised an MEW in 1984.
In addition, State governments have also assigned colour codes to fishing vessels to facilitate identification at sea (colour coding).
To address issues of fisher safety and security, a number of technological solutions have been progressively developed. These include: satellite-based systems, such as the DAT; a dedicated satellite-based tracking system; the NavIC Messaging Receiver (NMR); and the GAGAN Enabled Mariner’s Instrument for Navigation and Information (GEMINI) system. While the DAT is exclusively dedicated for raising distress alerts from sea, other satellite-based systems facilitate positional information and other value-added services to fishers, such as alerts and warnings, and advisories. In 2016, based on Proof of Concept (PoC) trials by the Indian Navy and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a dedicated indigenous satellite-based tracking system using GSAT-6 satellite was found promising, and by 2019, field trials on fishing vessels were successfully completed in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. 
As per decisions at the 17th meeting of the National Committee for Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security against Threats from the Sea (NCSMCS), held in September 2019, the DoF was to make provisions for implementation of the system on priority.  In January 2020, the Prime Minister handed over the keys of deep-sea fishing vessels and transponders to select farmers of Tamil Nadu. Further, about 4,997 mechanised boats in Tamil Nadu were planned to be fitted with the transponder. In December 2020, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), in partnership with a private firm M/s Skylotech India, introduced a satellite-based narrowband Internet of Things (IoT) network, with potentially wide-ranging applications in the fisheries sector. The system also supports vessel monitoring and two-way messaging. In July 2021, Skylotech also entered into a partnership with India’s National Federation of Fishers Cooperatives Limited (FISHCOPFED) for delivering IoT-based solutions to the fisheries sector. To encourage fitment of communication equipment and transponders, a subsidy of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent is being provided, under the PMMSY, to motorised and traditional fishing vessels.
To strengthen the legal framework, the National Marine Fisheries (Regulation and Management) Bill, 2020 was listed for introduction in the budget session of the Parliament in 2020. The objectives of the bill, inter alia, include regulation of fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and promotion of safety and security of fishers at sea. In July 2020, Gujarat amended the Gujarat Fisheries Act, 2003 through the Gujarat Ordinance No. 4 of 2020 for strengthening fisheries monitoring and enforcement. The statement of reasons to the ordinance highlights the need for providing mechanisms to regulate and monitor fishing, empowering the police to work with the fisheries department and coast guard, “so that the security of the State is not jeopardized by anybody under the garb of the fishing activities in the territorial waters.” Subsequent, to the issuance of the ordnance, the Gujarat Fisheries Act, 2003 was subsequently amended in September 2020.
Addressing Underlying Constraints
In 2008, a workshop on MCS in India under the aegis of the Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation (BOBP-IGO) identified some of the constraints in implementing MCS in India as: lack of accurate statistics/scientific information; lack of community awareness; large number of inaccessible landing points; lack of supporting legislations; inadequate manpower and funding; inadequate interest by state authorities; and, weak enforcement mechanisms (including failure of a central scheme wherein boats were provided to states in the 1990s). Since 2008, a number of initiatives have been taken to address these constraints; however, as a comprehensive MCS structure is yet to evolve, some of the broad underlying constraints presumably continue to this day and may need to be progressively addressed.
Tracking at Sea
While merchant ships engaged in international systems are mandatorily required to be fitted with identification and tracking systems, such as the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and AIS, most fishing vessels, other than deep sea vessels, are not required to be fitted with such systems. From a security and safety perspective, the non-availability of a tracking system for fishing vessels complicates domain awareness and can also lead to wasteful operational effort in physical identification, whether it be for constabulary tasks, such as fisheries enforcement, response to piratical incidents against fishing vessels, maritime casualty investigation in case of collisions, etc., or in the case of benign tasks, such as search and rescue and medical/casualty evacuation from fishing vessels.
The Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, in 2014 and 2018, while examining issues related to the Coastal Security Scheme (CSS) of the MHA for coastal policing and the impact of Cyclone Ockhi respectively, had made certain recommendations relating to the fisheries sector, such as tracking of fishing vessels, installation of DAT/NMR, etc. Likewise, in 2017, the Committee on External Affairs, while examining Indo-Pak relations issues, had recommended installation of GPS to facilitate tracking of fishing vessels and the need for bolstering mechanisms for safety and security of fishers, including through awareness campaigns. A 2015 report of the Public Accounts Committee(PAC) had also recommended the use of technology for tracking of ships and vessels in the Indian maritime zone.
Considering the different types of fishing vessels and their operating areas, there may be a need for unique solutions, which may need to be further integrated. Notwithstanding the intent as envisaged in policies, the recommendations of high-powered committees and the development and availability of multiple technological solutions, it is unclear if a pan-India mandatory solution for different classes of fishing vessels has finally been implemented. Implementing suitable solution(s) for tracking of fishing vessels therefore continues to be an overarching imperative from both a safety and a security perspective.
Harmonising and Integrating Solutions
Over the years, several incremental, but fragmented, steps have been taken by the Centre and state governments to address issues related to MCS. These have been driven by security and safety concerns, as well as the increased recognition, particularly in a few coastal states, of the need to address gaps in MCS in India. Some of the notable measures by the Centre include the ReALCraft portal, the MFID, the DAT and an indigenously developed tracking system for fishing vessels. States and other agencies, including central agencies, have also partnered in developing solutions to meet the safety and security requirements of fishers through mobile applications, NMR, GEMINI, the Skylo IoT system, etc. These have also possibly led to a degree of duplication of effort. Despite these efforts, an integrated, harmonised and holistic MCS system at the national/state level is however yet to be developed. The federal system can possibly create certain complications in the development of integrated system, but a robust MCS is in the interest of all stakeholders, including the states and fishers themselves, and a harmonised and integrated system needs to be pursued.
Institutional Arrangements and Legal Framework
Despite its wide utility in maritime safety and security, MCS is essentially a fisheries-driven activity which is supported in some respects, such as with regard to surveillance, by maritime security/ law enforcement agencies. Consequently, MCS systems need to be developed and operated by the fisheries departments, in partnership with other stakeholders, including security agencies. There are multiple agencies and institutes that are already involved in specific aspects related to MCS in India; the need is perhaps for a holistic and comprehensive approach to MCS. An integrated MCS solution could link up with security-led systems, such as the National Command Control Communication and Information (NC3I) network, or the proposed National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) project, in line with other systems that have been developed by the shipping sector and integrated with the NC3I network, such as the LRIT system and the National AIS (NAIS) chain.
Strengthening MCS includes activities both afloat (ships and aircraft) and ashore (land component). Shore-based monitoring through dedicated field-level MCS units/MCS centres had been recommended (and planned) in the past. Any national-level system needs a hierarchical architecture and in the case of MCS, field-level activities at over 1,200 fish landing centres/fishing harbours need to be linked through a suitable hierarchical system, such as the proposed FMCS. Technological solutions—linking fishing harbours/landing centres, fishing vessels and related agencies—will need to be developed to build near real-time MCS in India. It may well be necessary to leapfrog through technologically driven solutions, as has been done by some other countries, such as neighbouring Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
There is also a need to strengthen the underlying legislative framework for fisheries so as to provide statutory provisions for compliance and enforcement of MCS measures, both at the national and state level. Notably, the Group of Ministers 2001 report had recommended that “the laws and procedures relating to detention and prosecution of poachers and confiscation of boats need to be tightened.”
The Mumbai attacks in 2008 led to the revamp of the coastal security construct in India, and this led to the subsequent integration of the fisheries sector into the security construct. While the need to develop MCS structures had been envisioned in the early 2000s, after the Mumbai attack, several initiatives were taken to address specific gaps in the fisheries sector. Notwithstanding the significant progress in several aspects, two issues that particularly merit attention are: first, the implementation of a comprehensive monitoring/tracking system at sea, as has already been recommended by several committees; and second, the development of an integrated shore component for MCS. Robust MCS is a sine qua non for sustainable fisheries, maritime and coastal security, economic progress, as well as the security, safety, and well-being of the fishers themselves. Consequently, developing an integrated fisheries MCS system in India needs to be given due consideration and priority.
About the Author
Captain Himadri Das is a serving Indian naval officer and is presently a Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF). The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Government of India or the Indian Navy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Dr Akhilesh K.V., Scientist, ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Mumbai Research Centre, Mumbai, in the development of this article.
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