Fisheries Law in India: a brief overview

Posted By on Jul 22, 2013 | 3 comments

By Sukanya Thapliyal

In a country like India, blessed with great geographical location but unfortunately suffering from some serious challenges of poverty, unemployment and overpopulation, fishing cannot be considered as a simple economic activity; it is an important means of providing livelihood and food security to over 1.5 million fishermen, in addition to others indirectly dependent on this sector. The rapid expansion of marine fishing activities through the introduction of an increasing number of mechanized fishing boats and deep sea trawlers, conflicts of interest between operators of  mechanized boats and traditional fishermen using non-mechanized boats, the high potential for development in this field and the associated responsibility of judicious use and protection of natural resources, have made it extremely necessary to enact legislation for regulation of fishing, by fishing vessels in sea as well as in inland water resources.

The Constitution of India favors a political structure in which both the power and the responsibilities are appropriately divided among union and state governments, and therefore carries the feature of dual government.[1] This clear demarcation of power to make rules has been clearly explained under article 246 of India’s Constitution. Further state laws mentions fisheries as one of its prime subjects.[2] Therefore, there are various key legislations under state government which deal with the regulation of fisheries and related sectors. Fisheries in the maritime states of India, within the territorial limits of 12 miles, are dealt with under the Marine Fishing Regulation Act (MFRA). These acts are formulated on the guidelines provided by the modal piece of legislation prepared by the Ministry Of Agriculture, Government of India, in 1979, which was encouraged by the fishers operating unpowered fishing vessels to safeguard their fishing space and equipment from bottom trawlers.[3] Currently, these legislations are not just restricted to the maritime states of the country but are quite widespread in other states as well, for regulating fisheries in inland waters.[4] This development in particular can be seen as a positive initiative by other states that has and will help in taking such welfare measures to a higher level.

Some of the important management measures adopted under the MFRA are prohibition on certain fishing gear, regulation on mesh size, establishment of closed season and areas, demarcation of zones for no trawling, in addition to other measures such as the use of turtle excluder devices and designation of no fishing areas. Other than this, there are specific provisions regarding appointment of adjudicating officers and other officials as per the need and requirement of the acts, issuing of licenses upon meeting several standards, registration of fishing vessels, regulating the manner of fishing with least threat to the environment, penalties and fines in cases of non-compliance, and maintaining a balance between  operators of  mechanized boats and traditional fishermen using non-mechanized boats. Such provisions have been set in place to conserve fish and to regulate fishing on a scientific basis, and maintain law and order in the sea and inland waters.[5]

The legislations made by different states are quite successful in providing a proper framework for regulating this sector. However, there are still many questions being raised about the implementation of these laws, and this will remain a grey area for quite some time.

[1] Mahi Pal Jain, Indian Constitution Law 527 (2012).

[2] Ind. Const. sch. 7, list II, entry 21.

[3] International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, Indian Legal Instruments 2013,

[4] Provisions for regulating inland fisheries are present in the states of Bihar, Uttarakhand, Karnataka , Himachal Pradesh, etc.

[5] Provisions are present within the Marine Fishing Regulation Act (MFRA) of Indian maritime states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, etc.