INDIA BEAT THE BANK
by Andrew Christie
Apr 12 '00
address: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, po box 2616, Friday
Harbor, WA 98250
Perhaps the greatest environmental
threat of the IMF/World Bank is the threat
their policies pose to marine eco-systems: Pulling all the fish from
the sea in the name of foreign exchange. India fought back and
HOW INDIA BEAT THE BANK
Overfishing is an environmental
consequence of the policies of the World Bank
and IMF that is often only vaguely or peripherally remarked in the
media. When reporters do
stories on local overfishing problems, they may throw
in a reference to the compulsion of developing nations to exploit the
resource to the point of collapse in order "to obtain hard currency."
Conversely, when critics of the Bank or the IMF refer to specific
environmental consequences of Bank/IMF actions in the developing
world, the focus is on deforestation, pollution, and inappropriate
Yet in the pantheon of potential
and pending global environmental disasters,
the ultimate consequence of overfishing – removing fish from the
sea at a rate beyond the capacity of species to reproduce –
would be a holocaust without
peer, and Bank/IMF policies are working in earnest to
bring about that day. It is by now fairly well known that
draconian Structural Adjustment
Programs have aggravated or ensured human poverty and
misery in many nations of the global south, but when these
programs are applied to marine
fisheries, they have the potential to bring about the
end of life on Earth.
By the estimate of the U.N. Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 60 percent
of the world’s fish stocks are overfished or nearly overfished. As
the commercial fishing fleets have expanded – courtesy of
government subsidies – the
developed North has seen the populations of fish in its own
waters crash alarmingly (cod, haddock, redfish, and swordfish off the
U.S/Canadian Eastern seaboard; perch, salmon and king crab off the
West Coast; and just about
everything off the coasts of Japan, Taiwan, and
South Korea). The world’s trawler fleet doubled between 1970 and
1990 – from 585,000 to 1.2
million boats. From 20 million tons in 1950, the
global catch hit 100 million tons in 1989, and has stagnated at
that level, the fleets fishing
their way down the food chain to replace higher-value
species with lower-value ones as each is depleted in turn.
In the EU, the solution to this
problem has been the granting of "exit credits"
– a system in which a country pays its home trawler fleet to take
itself elsewhere; essentially, go ruin somebody else’s
There is never much question where
"elsewhere" is going to be.
To make that destination even
plainer, the World Bank has mandated that developing
nations open up their traditional fishing grounds to foreign trawler
fleets, selling off fishing rights for hard currency and entering
into joint venture export agreements.
Starting in 1991, the government of
India approved over 100 international
joint ventures for deep-sea marine fishing and processing in
its waters. The goal was the massive export of fish to earn
foreign exchange, the holy
grail of the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Program.
The policy would have brought in more than 2000 factory fishing vessels,
destroyed the livelihood of 8 million artiginal fishermen, and eliminated
a primary protein source from the diet of millions of local consumers
as the country’s marine resources were systematically plundered
and shipped to the developed world.
Faced with their assured
destruction, the people of India rose up.
National strikes by a million local
fishers and fishworkers rocked the country.
A large contingent of India’s 300 million fish consumers deliberately
cut fish out of their diet in protest. In June 1993, traditional
fishermen from the port of Trivandrum torched 14 foreign trawlers,
seized four more, and took a boat operator hostage. By 1996, the
government threw in the towel and canceled the sale of deep-sea fishing
rights to transnational corporations. Though
this story is often reported as an example of how India saved itself
from disaster at the hands of the World Bank, it should also be noted
that they saved the fish and a marine eco-system.
Elsewhere, in African and Asian
states where resistance to Bank or IMF policy
has been weaker or less organized, the Bank is getting its way.
Fish is now the primary food export
of the developing world. Left unchecked,
the end result of this trend is bound to have dire effects on a
global scale. John Madely, writing in the 1995 Panos media
briefing "Fish: A Net Loss
for the Poor," put it bluntly: "Unless management improves,
the major ocean fishing grounds could be turned into empty wastes
with appalling consequences. A knock-on effect might unravel the oceans’