Two reports that suggested ways to overcome sporadic stand-offs between fishermen and retailers over the auction price of fish and to improve the marketing of fish have gathered dust.
The Monaye Committee Report of 2010 vintage on ways to improve the functioning of Kerala State Cooperative Federation for Fisheries Development (Matsyafed) and primary cooperatives has not been acted upon.
Similarly, a report of a Taskforce, constituted in early 2007, on Fish Processing and Marketing has been forgotten.
“The basic problem with the fisheries sector, especially the traditional one, is that there is not enough credit in it,” said M.M. Monaye, former MLA, who headed the committee that gave suggestions to improve the Matsyafed’s functioning.
He said fishermen now depended on loans taken on disadvantageous terms to float out boats that cost about Rs.60 a lakh apiece on an average. As a result, those who lent the money demanded a portion of the catch on each trip.
Charles George, convenor of the Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee, which is spearheading an agitation against exploitation of fishermen by fish sellers, said the traditional fishing sector had taken a different turn compared to its large fleets.
Traditional fishermen share the expenses in floating out a new boat. They are both owners and workers on the boat and fall prey to people, who lend money at exorbitant interest rates. Organisations like Matsyafed or banks lent only a portion of the actual cost of the boats, he said.
K.K. Baiju, fisheries research scholar, said, “The traditional fishermen are an exploited lot. Successive governments have tried to free them from the exploitation, but they have not succeeded.” He highlighted the contradiction in the government policy to end exploitation and the recent constitution of a committee to fix the rate of reduction for retail fish sellers.
The Taskforce on Fish Processing and Marketing, headed by former director of Central Institute of Marine Fisheries Technology K. Devadasan, pointed out the crucial role played by the local market. About 80 per cent of the fish landings are sold within the domestic market.
However, the report did not dilute its emphasis that the primary producer had no say over the price he received. “The primary producer generally has no right to the first sale as he is usually indebted to the auctioneer and the prices are de-facto controlled by the auctioneer.” The report goes on to say: “the primary producer gets very little return for his risky hard work. Thus he is always at a disadvantage irrespective of the quantity of fish landed.”
At the receiving end of this market system is the consumer, who ends up paying twice or thrice the actual price received by the primary producer, the report pointed out. “The price spread is also considerable and the consumer has to pay twice or thrice the price the producer receives due to intermediates controlling the system.”
The Taskforce had suggested collection of authentic data from the field, constant awareness campaigns, emphasised the need for infrastructure and formation of cooperatives on the lines of Amul to end the exploitation of the primary producer.