During his heydays, Dayanandan, a fisherman from Vypeen, spent many nights gazing at the starry sky for indications of fish shoals.

The size and concentration of constellations of stars helped him figure out where to find fish in the sea the next morning. And the assumptions based on constellations—Meenkadi in local parlance—never proved wrong, said Mr. Dayanandan, who has been in the profession for over three decades.

“Meenkadi” is part of the traditional knowledge of the fisher folk of Kerala which still has many takers in the community.

He can tell his fellowmen what to expect from the sea for the day by observing the changing colours of the water.

“If dark blue patches appear on the water, one is sure to find a big shoal of mackerel. Presence of small and frequent bubbles would be an indication of the presence of oil sardine,” said a weather-beaten Mr. Dayanandan, fixing his gaze at the roaring sea at Vypeen.

The golden colour that adorns the upper side of a mackerel gives a dark tinge to the water when the fish moves in groups. When oil sardines feed at the sea bottom, air bubbles are released, giving enough hints to fishermen about the type of fish swimming below, he said.

The Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (KUFOS) is planning to document the traditional knowledge of elders like Mr. Dayanandan and decipher the science in the practices. The Pandit Karuppan Chair for Socioeconomic Empowerment of Fisherfolk and Archiving Traditional Knowledge has started functioning at the university.

A group of researchers had recently come in search of Mr. Dayanandan to record his conventional wisdom for posterity.

B. Madhusoodana Kurup, Vice-Chancellor of KUFOS, said the chair planned to unlock the science in the indigenous knowledge of fisherfolk for the development of the fishery sector and conservation of fish wealth.

Fishermen banked on their native wisdom for fishing, identifying fishing grounds and species and stock availability. They relied on sensory factors like colour and smell for finding fish. They were also able to predict natural disasters by observing the behaviour of marine and coastal organisms. Scientific validation, documentation and appraisal of such practices would help in planning the sustainable use of fisheries resources. “The Chair will investigate the science behind such traditional knowledge and practice,” said Dr. Kurup.

“Traditional fishermen can detect the presence and absence of fishes in the sea by observing factors like current patterns,” said K.S. Purushan, former Dean of the College of Fisheries of the Kerala Agricultural University.

Water flow patterns in the sea are crucial for fishing. The unexpected twists and turns in the sea can even damage fishing craft and gear. The fishermen can easily distinguish between favourable and hostile changes in the sea. They can cast their nets at favourable locations and even move to safety, said Mr. Purushan, who engaged in fishing in his early days. Keen observers among fishers often closely follow the formation and movement of clouds. The formation of a rainbow in the sky too tells them where to look for fishes. They observe animal behaviour such as twirling and twisting of some fish varieties and movement of aquatic birds to gather information of availability of fish. “These practices indicate the wealth of knowledge lying hidden in the traditional wisdom of fishermen,” Mr. Purushan said.

Marine pharmacology is one area which is expected to benefit from the traditional knowledge of fishers. Fishing communities have already identified and are using a few marine organisms which have therapeutic properties. M.S. Raju is the director of the Chair and V. Ambilikumar is the Associate.

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