Apex body of fishing sector cooperatives keen to defuse raging stand-off between fishers and retailers over price of catch auctioned at fish landing centres

Kerala State Cooperative Federation for Fisheries Development (Matsyafed) will explore ways to end sporadic stand-offs between fishermen-boat owners and retailers over the price of fish at auctions.

Matsyafed, the apex body looking after fishing sector cooperatives, is exploring legal angles and the possibility of increasing its presence in fish retailing. Senior officials, however, have said it would take time to make an effective intervention.

Matsyafed’s effort comes in the wake of the current dispute between fishers and retailers at the Kalamukku Fish Landing Centre over the price of catch auctioned at the centre.

The fishermen struck work on Friday against what they claimed was exploitation by retailers, who bought fish in auctions at the centre. Boat owners and retailers are at loggerheads over the percentage of reduction in auction price, an informal arrangement, and a convention at the centre in which fishermen willingly forgo a certain percentage of the actual auctioned price. The practice is called Lelakkizhivu (or a reduction in the auctioned price) in fishermen’s parlance.

“The matters have come to a head with the retailers demanding 20 per cent cut in the auctioned price from the current 10 to 13 per cent,” said Charles George, convenor of the Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee.

Matsyafed Chairman V. Dinakaran, who inaugurated a protest meeting on Tuesday, called for self-regulation by fishermen to avoid a glut in the market. He said when there was excess fish in the market, middlemen acted as a cartel to push down the prices.

“Under no circumstances will we allow exploitation of fishermen,” Mr. Dinakaran told The Hindu. He said fishermen had to get the actual price of their catch.

Minister for Fisheries K. Babu late last month had asked the Ernakulam District Collector to hold a meeting of stakeholders to temporarily end the stand-off. Mr. Babu said on Tuesday that it would take time to end the disaffection among fishermen.

Matsyafed Managing Director S. Ajayan said the apex cooperative was looking at the possibility of introducing regulatory mechanisms to end exploitation of fishermen by middlemen.

Mr. Ajayan said an organisation like Matsyafed would not be able to intervene and immediately come up with a solution to the problem as the sale of fish, at auctions at fish landing centres, took place in the unorganised sector.

There are no formal laws binding the sale of fish at fish landing centres like Kalamukku. There are only conventions which are often tipped against the fishermen, especially artisanal fishermen using traditional boats with inboard engines.

President of Vypeen-Fort Kochi Fish Merchants’ Association, which has raised the demand for the hike in Lelakkizhivu, said fish retailers were not exploiting fishermen or boat owners. He claimed that hundreds of retailers, living on small budgets, eked out a living from the business.

Joseph Xavier Kalappurakkal of Mechanised Boat Owners Association said most boat owners were deep in debt and exploitation by the fish merchants had made life impossible for them. He claimed that boat owners and fishermen were being forced to sell their catch at throwaway prices because the government was reluctant to intervene.

“This is a demand we have been making over the last two years,” he said. The government refused to act to improve the condition of boat owners and fishermen, he said.

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