Several fishing organizations in Pakistan told DW that the government was planning to give Chinese companies deep sea fishing rights when several Chinese fishing trawlers arrived in the southern city of Karachi a month ago.
“About 12 Chinese trawlers have docked in the coastal area of Karachi. If the authorities do not intend to grant fishing rights to Chinese companies, then with whose permission are these trawlers allowed to dock?” Muhammad Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fishermen Forum, told DW.
“We have brought this matter to court, who told the government to convince all stakeholders about this matter,” said Shah, adding that if Chinese companies get permission to fish in deep sea in Pakistan, the livelihoods of more than 2 million fishermen will be affected.
“We will continue to reject this action,” said Shah.
A fishermen’s association in the country’s western Balochistan province is also concerned about China’s alleged plans to take over the fishing industry. Beijing has invested heavily in their province under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.
Khudad Wajo, president of the Gwadar Fishermen’s Alliance, said China was preparing to seize Pakistani waters after “seizing” their land.
“The government doesn’t care about us. They just want to calm Beijing down,” Wajo told DW, adding that fishing organizations had planned demonstrations against China’s increasing involvement in Pakistan’s fishing sector
Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces have a coastal belt of approximately 1,050 kilometers (652 miles) along the Arabian Sea. The government generated $ 410 million (€ 349 million) in fiscal 2019-20 from the fisheries sector.
China’s footprint is increasing in Pakistan
The Pakistani government in July allowed a Chinese mining company to extend its work on a copper-gold mining project in the insurgency-ravaged Balochistan province. According to local media, work is restarting the Saindak copper-gold project – collaboration between Pakistan and China. The mine was initially leased for a period of 10 years to Metallurgical Corporation of China Limited, registered locally as Saindak Metals Limited (SML).
Last year, the federal government of Pakistan was under Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the creation of a National Coastal Development Authority (NCDA) for Gwadar port. The decision was strongly criticized by parties and opposition activists, who felt that the establishment of the institution could not be justified by the existence of a coastal area office that carries out a similar function.
Activists believe the decision was taken to appease China, which is pumping more than $ 62 billion into the cash-strapped Islamic republic under the CPEC program, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Under CPEC, Beijing has invested large sums of money in infrastructure development, energy and other projects.
China announced the CPEC project in 2015, as Beijing seeks to expand its influence in Pakistan and across Central and South Asia to counter US and Indian influence. The CPEC initiative will link Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port (626 kilometers, 389 miles west of Karachi) in Balochistan on the Arabian Sea to China’s western Xinjiang region. It also includes plans to create a network of roads, railways and oil to improve connectivity between China and the Middle East.
Baloch separatists, both militant and political, oppose China’s increasing footprint in the province.
The mystery surrounds the government’s fishing policy
So far, the government has not responded to the fishing association’s allegations about Chinese trawlers. DW contacted the office of Asif Riaz, the federal secretary at the Maritime Affairs Ministry, but he declined to comment, neither confirmed nor denied that the authorities had granted the Chinese company deep sea fishing rights.
However, a Balochistan government official told DW on condition of anonymity that China’s alleged involvement in the fishing sector had generated resentment among fishermen. “The government does not firmly deny plans to grant fishing permits to Chinese trawlers. I think that’s why there is a lot of speculation about that,” he said.
But Shah of the Fishermen’s Forum claims the permit has been granted to Chinese trawlers. “The government first advertises the tenders, then issues the permits, and only then the trawlers arrive at the port. The Chinese ships have been at anchor for more than a month. If the permits aren’t issued, why are they docked at Karachi port?” He said.
Several lawmakers have expressed concern over the situation. Mir Amer Ali Khan Magsi, chairman of the parliament’s standing committee for maritime affairs, told DW he was shocked by the news of a Chinese trawler arriving in Karachi. “We have been told by the ministry that the government has no intention of giving permission to any trawlers to operate in the deep sea because it is very destructive. [for environment]. But who allowed these trawlers to dock in Karachi? We have asked government officials to clarify, “Magsi said.
Hafiz Abdul Berr, chairman of the Fishermen Cooperative Society, alleges that the government tacitly approved fishing licenses for Chinese companies. “They’ve done it once in the past, but we sued it in court,” Berr said
However, the government said that the country needed Chinese investment to boost its economy. “Chinese companies invest in Pakistan and also pay taxes, which will help our economy. If local fishermen have the capacity to fish in the deep sea, we will consider that too. If they can’t, they shouldn’t go against government policies,” Muhammad Iqbal Khan. , a member of the Pakistani parliament Tehreek-e-Insaf, said
Environmentalists say that deep sea fishing should not be permitted under any circumstances. Abdul Rahim, an environmental activist living in Gwadar, believes that such a plan will damage the marine ecosystem. “It will also cause depletion of fish, shrimp and other marine life. This will damage the environment.”