Overtime, natural resources decrease in quality and quantity when a government encourages its people to focus on development more than preservation. This is the case in India. People encroach upon India’s environment in many ways due to the government’s constant encouragement for economic development above all else.
Dr. L. Venkatachalam of the Madras Institute of Development Studies argued that as gross domestic product (GDP) increases, pollution increases. Many economists, according to the Environmental Kuznets Curve (see graph below), claim that once a country’s average income becomes stable, the level of degradation lowers. Dr. Venkatachalam argued that this is not true in developing nations because of stratification and environmental factors; these nation’s degradation remains high.
According to the pollution haven hypothesis, developed nations, such as the US, will often outsource cheap labor from developing nations, such as India. This can be beneficial for the developed countries because they are able to decrease labor expenses, which heightens their overall profit. However, this often results in developing countries overlooking environmental regulations because there is a competition between the developing nations for the work since the developed countries prefer to partner with the cheapest option. Due to this, developing countries’ governments focus more on development in the cheapest way possible and exploiting every opportunity and resource to attract exportation in order to increase GDP. While developing countries continue to overlook environmental factors, let’s not forget that the current developed countries ignored sustainability to rise in the global economy. Can you blame the developing nations for following in their footsteps?
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While I was there, I spent time with the Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team (ANET) learning about the environmental pressures and history of the islands.
Mahima Jaini gave us a tour of a fishery and fishing market in Port Blair. She also gave a lecture on fishing dynamics on the islands. I learned that fishing can cause many problems if not practiced in sustainable ways, and the government has encouraged fishermen to overexploit the marine resources to increase India’s GDP.
After the 2004 Tsunami, the people and environment of the islands experienced tremendous damage. The fishermen were the ones most affected. Their boats were destroyed, their villages ruined, and the resources in the natural environment that they relied on were also damaged. About 80% of the total people affected by the tsunami belonged to fishing communities. Because of this majority percentage, the government’s response to the disaster was to provide boats for these communities. The government not only replenished the number of boats destroyed by the tsunami, they aided fishermen with substantially more boats than they had before. The graph below depicts the influx of boats post tsunami. The excess of boats was so prominent, that many farmers and other tradesman converted to fishing because of the free resource. The influx of boats in the islands caused overfishing and exploitation to the marine life.
Dying Fish Hoax
Overall, the government of India has always encouraged using all available resources to get the most out of every opportunity. This ends up damaging the ecosystems by way of polluting or exploiting them. Mahima told us that in the 80’s the government began encouraging fishers to overfish by telling them that the fish are dying on their own. This propaganda taught that fish were dying of old age and that they were going to waste by dying of natural causes when they could be sold and eaten instead.
The influx of quantity of boats and fishermen as well as the ideology of overfishing can be seen in the reports of tons of fish caught. The graph above shows how since the 80’s the tons of fish caught has drastically increased. One of the reasons is that the Port Blair Airport began regular trips in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Because of this quicker access to the outside world, exportation of fish greatly expanded. The graph below shows how the market has targeted different fish over the years based on commercial demand.
These fisheries leave a large impact on the economy and the environment, but if people do not focus on the negative pressures they put on the environment, the economic advances will not last. Fisheries affect humans, fish, and the habitat. Unless all of these factors are thriving, the interaction will not thrive.
When I visited the Junglighat jetty, I saw many different types of marine inhabitants. Fishermen catch whatever they can, which often results in a large bycatch. This bycatch is harmful to the species that are not supposed to be caught. It happens most during trolling. Fishermen do not throw the bycatch back because they can sell it for chicken feed. Trawling also hurts the habitat of the fish because it drags heavy nets on the ocean floor that can destroy coral and other types of habitats.
I saw small sharks, stingrays, barracudas, and other types of species. Many of these animals are illegal to catch, but none of the regulations are enforced. Mahima told us that the authorities usually visit the jetty at around 9AM or 10AM after all the fishermen have packed up their catch. This leads to endangered or threatened species being caught.
Overfishing is also practiced at the jetty. Overfishing of specific species can lead to increases in other populations which disrupts the entire ecosystem. This can be seen in trophic cascades when the top level predators are over exploited, increasing some of the lower trophic levels of species because they are not being eaten. The most common case of over fishing at the jetty is of the grouper fish. Grouper is of high demand in the market, and fishermen are encouraged to export to increase GDP. Right now, the final price of the grouper fish, also known as the Dollar fish, is about $140 per kilogram, but Andaman fishermen sell it for only 500 rupees per kilogram (~$7.80). There are so many middlemen in the export industry that take money for themselves and do not give any back to the fishermen. These groupers are overfished because of the market demand and also because they are caught when they are not fully developed. The buyers want fish that are plate-size, which does not allow groupers to grow to the age of maturity. The fish cannot reproduce. The market and the government which encourages GDP growth do not look at these unsustainable factors.
“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.“- Alanis Obomosawin
If the Indian government continues to enable and promote unsustainable fishing, the marine habitat and ecosystem will not be able to support the economy. Unless there are measures taken to focus on limited and proper encroachment upon the environment, the natural resources which people rely on will not survive. The government and fishermen can be more cautious by limiting the areas where trolling is practiced, only fishing a certain size and amount of certain species, providing incentives to throw bycatch back into the water, and many other ways. If the government really cared about sustaining the GDP, they would regulate how humans interact with the natural resources more closely.