The menace of illegal wildlife trafficking is primarily understood in the context of terrestrial species from a layperson’s perspective. However, the definition of ‘wildlife’ under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA) includes aquatic life and their habitat. The WLPA, in its current form, protects marine species like sea turtles, sea cucumber, sea fans, sea horses, some species of sharks and rays, corals, mollusca, etc., under its Schedules. In addition to these, ITCHS Based Import Export Policy provides for prohibited and restricted lists of species. Accordingly, such marine species or body parts are either allowed under certain conditions or wholly banned from export-import. For example, shark fins are strictly prohibited from import and export, irrespective of the species. Other marine species or body parts regulated and managed under this policy include fish tails, sea shells, pomfret, eels, ornamental fishes, turtle eggs, etc. With the latest WLPA Amendment Bill, 2021, we hope to see marine species listed under CITES officially become part of our domestic wildlife law.
Fisheries as a Detecting Agency
The Forest Department is primarily in charge of enforcement activities regarding the protection of the WLPA species. However, the Customs play a prime role in enforcement when the import-export policy is violated. Another agency, State Fisheries Department, may also play an essential role in detecting illegal trafficking or killing of listed species, especially in coastal regions. It is because they lead the enforcement of the fishing regulation in India. As a nodal agency, its role involves entering, seizure, and impounding fishing vessels, if state fisheries law has been violated. Sometimes, such violation may also occur when species protected under WLPA have been illegally captured or traded. Even though the Forest Department has jurisdiction over the WLPA-listed marine species, they may not be always present at the spot where the detection or violation of WLPA has occurred. Hence, authorized fisheries officials may end up detecting illegal activity concerning the protected marine species.
State Fisheries Regulations
As per the Seventh Schedule of our Constitution, ‘Fisheries’ is a state subject (Entry 21, List II) which implies that the state plays a pivotal role in its legislation and governance. When we talk about the illegal offenses against listed marine species, some state laws’ provisions complement the WLPA. The state fisheries laws of Gujarat, Andaman and Nicobar, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu have express clauses banning any illegal activity relating to the protected species under WLPA. However, other states are either silent or have not amended their laws yet. But this cannot be considered as an excuse to not abide by the WLPA as it is a central law, and all the states are bound to follow it.
Below are the relevant provisions of Gujarat, Andaman & Nicobar, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu that refer to marine species protected under the WLPA:
The Gujarat Fisheries Rules, 2003
It prohibits any person from fishing protected species under the WLPA. It also imposes liability on the licensing officer to report to the Forest Officials if protected species are stranded under the WLPA.
The Puducherry Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 2008
It excludes the marine species listed under WLPA from the definition of ‘fish’ for the applicability of this Act. Similarly, it also excludes exploitation, catching, or collection of species covered under the WLPA from the definition of ‘fishing.’
The Andaman and Nicobar Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 2003
Similar to Puducherry’s, this act also excludes the species protected under WLPA from the definition of ‘fish’ and ‘fishing.’
The Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, 2020
It prohibits the owner or master of a fishing vessel from carrying out fishing of any protected species under the WLPA.
Other Complementing Provisions
If a person is caught illegally collecting sea cucumber with an intent to trade, fisheries law can also be invoked in addition to WLPA; as operation of other laws is not barred under section 56 of the WLPA. Hence, here are some of the scenarios in which state fisheries provisions can be utilized concerning the seizure of protected species:
- When such a species is collected using illegal methods/tools;
- When a fishing vessel is not registered/ improperly registered;
- When such species are collected from prohibited/unallowed areas;
- When such species are collected during the banned season;
- When someone enters Indian territorial waters from outside and catches protected species;
- When such offenses are committed by companies, etc.
Interagency cooperation may sound very obvious and basic, but it is essential for effective enforcement. As seen above, the provisions of state fisheries laws are weaved together with the central WLPA. Impliedly, both the forest department and fisheries officials should work in tandem to ensure the protection of our listed marine species. Such cooperation may involve fisheries communicating and transferring the case to the Forest Department whenever protected species are seized as a part of illegal activity. Another way could be to frequently sensitize the coastal communities by spreading awareness of the protected species. Developing and communicating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the situations when protected marine species mistakenly get caught in the net without any guilty state of mind.
Complementing provisions for WLPA in state fisheries laws shows a vigilant approach of the concerned state governments towards the conservation of protected species. Whenever such express provisions are missing or silent, it leads to confusion. There are higher chances that silent or indirect provisions are often misinterpreted by those who may not be equipped to interpret the laws. Therefore, those states that have not incorporated express provisions may bring in policy changes through amendments or notifications.
Additionally, while applying these complementing provisions, the rights of the fishermen must be taken into consideration, especially as per the proviso clause of section 50(c) of the WLPA. The enforcement needs to exercise discretion when there is no guilt intention on the part of the fishermen. Instead, they should be made aware of the marine protected species and the need to conserve them. The provisions of law cannot always be applied in their raw form; hence, the idea is to uphold the spirit of the law.
- ITCHS Based Import Export Policy, Link
- Gujarat, Andaman and Nicobar, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu may not be an inclusive list of states with express provisions complementing the WLPA. The other states may also have such clauses in their notification or rules that could be currently unavailable in the public domain.
- Rule 6(5)(c), 7(18) and 7(19) of the Gujarat Fisheries Rules, 2003 Link
- Section 2(d) and 2(g) of the Puducherry Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 2008 Link
- Section 2(f) and 2(i) of the The Andaman and Nicobar Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 2003 Link
- Rule 17(6) of the The Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Rules, 2020 Link