Trawlers accused of venturing into inshore waters reserved for traditional fishermen

Traditional fishermen and trawl boat operators are moving towards a face-off over reports of bull trawling (two-boat trawling) on waters off the Kochi coast and within the 22-km inshore area over which the Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1980 applies.

Traditional fishermen are anxious because ‘pelagic trawling’, if taking place within the 22-km inshore area and at the depth of 10 fathoms, is a threat to resources reserved for them and an assault on their livelihood. But the rapidly ballooning cost of operations and the recent sharp fall in the prices of cuttlefish and squids have forced trawl boat operators to trespass into others’ territory.

Pelagic species are those that spend most of their lives in the mid-water, with little contact with the seabed. It includes anchovies, herrings and mackerels, and fish that gather to spawn.

But a senior official of the Department of Fisheries said checks were in place. He said there was no chance of banned gears being used in waters reserved for the traditional fishermen. Kadalora Jagrata Samitis, groups engaged in keeping an eye on fishing operations and other activities in the sea off the district’s coast, were vigilant and they would not allow such developments.

The official claim is that ‘pelagic trawling’ takes place in deeper waters and at depths ranging from 60 to 100 fathoms or even deeper.

T. J. Antony, president of Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Federation, CITU said: ‘Pelagic trawling’ is a serious threat to fisheries resources, which have seen serious depletion already. He felt even some of the traditional fishermen might have also resorted to these operations..

The cost of fishing operations have shot up over the last one year with diesel prices constantly inching up. At the same time, prices of species like cuttlefish and squids had come down from the range of Rs. 260-275 a kg before the monsoon trawl ban to an average Rs. 140 a kg in August, said a trawl boat owner in Munambam.

He said many of the large trawlers required between 3,000 and 4,000 litres of diesel for operations lasting a week and a catch worth Rs. 3.5 lakh to 4 lakh was not enough to make fishing viable. Trawler operators may be resorting to ‘pelagic trawling’ to make a profit, claimed Joseph Xaiver Kalappurakkal of Mechanised Boat Operators’ Association on Wednesday. He said most of the boat owners were in financial trouble, many of them having run up debts to the tune of Rs. 10 lakh.

According to him former bottom trawlers were now operating in the mid-waters to catch squids, cuttlefish and ribbon fish, which appeared to have swam up to the mid-water levels.

Former director of Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute N.G.K. Pillai confirmed that waters off the coast of Kerala had turned colder. The sea off Kerala was also showing symptoms of the effects of climate change, said Mr. Antony about the migration of some of the fish species to upper levels of the sea.

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