The Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981

The  Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing by Foreign  Vessels) Act, 1981 was enacted on 28th September 1981. The Act is in consonance with The United Nations Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 which relates to Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. The convention sets out guidelines for conservation and administration of such fish stocks. India being a signatory to the Convention, has agreed that it will ensure and promote the principle objective of the convention, i.e. optimum utilization of fisheries resources both within and beyond the exclusive economic zone. Thus, the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of Fishing By Foreign Vessels) Act, 1981.

The Act under section 2 sub clause (g) defines maritime zones which under the Act means territorial waters of India or exclusive economic zones. Exclusive economic zone though not defined specifically under the Act means is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding use of marine resources, and includes energy production from water and wind. The Act also defines the term fish, foreign vessel and Indian vessel which under the Act means a vessel owned by government of India, Indian national, company having 60% of share capital held by India, a cooperative society and any vessel registered under Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.

Section 3 and section 4 of the Act deals with issuance of licence to foreign national’s absence of which such foreign national or foreign vessel will not be allowed to fish in maritime zones of India. The licence shall be granted only by Central government only after formalities under section 4 are completed. Licence to an Indian citizen using a foreign vessel is granted in accordance with the rules enunciated under section 5 of the Act. Such person using foreign vessel will be granted vessel only on satisfaction that use is prescribed in public interest. The licences so issued under section 4 or 5 shall only be for a certain period and the application in both cases will be writing. Contravention of sections 3,4,5 of the Act, person shall be liable for fine. Since under the Act it was easier to obtain licence therefore the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of fishing by Foreign Nationals) Rules 1982 were made. Under the rules inorder to get a licence the owner of foreign vessel or an Indian citizen using foreign vessel had to furnish details regarding the vessel and a relevant enquiry is mandated. Under section 5 sub clause (b) of the Maritime Zones of India (Regulation of fishing by Foreign Nationals) Rules 1982 it is directed that foreign vessel before entering into national waters shall notify the authorities on approximate time of entry, entry point and its schedule. It is also directed under the Rules that, foreign vessel shall carry out activities as licensed. Under the section 6 of the Rules the Indian citizen now will have to seek a permit instead of a licence as mandated under the Act. The permit too shall be for a limited period. Under the rules neither a foreign national nor an Indian citizen can fish protected species as mentioned under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

The Government under section 6 Act has power to suspend or cancel the licence incase it is found out that false statement is made by the owner. Section 9 of the Act empowers a coast guard to carry out search or seizure in such foreign vessel. Incase the officer finds out any contravention being made, or use of improper equipments, such vessel or equipments can be seized. The application for release of such foreign vessel shall lie to Magistrate. Incase of violation takes place in territorial waters of India the punishment shall be imprisonment upto three years or with fine upto fifteen lakhs or both. Incase an offence takes place within exclusive economic zone the person shall be fined upto ten lakhs of rupees. The offence committed under the Act are cognizable triable by a Magistrate. The Rules of 1982 prohibits any damage to an Indian vessel and also prohibits fishing in territorial waters unless expressly allowed. The Rules of 1982 also takes into care prohibition to carry dangerous substance into water. Incase a vessel found in maritime waters of India without licence, the vessel along with the equipments is liable to be confiscated. The Rules also provide for grant of licence to vessels carrying out investigation for scientific purposes.

The Act was initially enacted with a purpose to use marine resources optimally however today the Act has an another purpose which is to safeguard the country against intrusions, in disguise of fishing through foreign vessels.

by Vibhuti Nakta