Younger generation does not want this profession
Fifty-six-year old Natarajan looked tired after spending almost four hours diving into the sea, swimming underwater around the submerged rocks to collect the mussels carpeted on them. He was also keen to help a younger member from his neighbourhood to tie up the traditional raft used for mussel fishery.
“Mussel farming has been the source of our livelihood all these years, but this tradition is going to end with our generation,” he explained.
Around 400 families living on the coastline of Mulloor are engaged in manual mussel farming, but only a few are willing to pass on the tradition to the younger generation.
“My two sons are not interested in this. They have got better education and want to take up other jobs. While one has chosen to do business, the other has opened a workshop,” he said.
“Four hours of work fetches us Rs.200-Rs.500, if the collection is good. But these land structures are disappearing fast and are being filled up by sand. Mussels do not thrive in such places and we may soon have to look for other areas or give up the traditional fishing”, said his fellow member.
According to him, the rocky areas are gradually disappearing, which results in the destruction of sea beds on which the mussels grow.
Talking to The Hindu, M. Sreekandan, Assistant Director (Fisheries), Vizhinjam, said there was no scientific indication of destruction of sea beds in the Vizhijam area. At present, there are no initiatives to impart training in such traditional fishing.
However, the department has taken up mussel farming in the area, he said.
“This kind of fishing requires good strength and an ability to swim underwater for long hours. These are traditionally passed down to family members. There are no schemes to promote such fishery at present,” Mr. Sreekandan said.
Though mussels form a major part of the culinary preference in this area, there is relatively less demand for them and they are priced low when compared to other sea food, which has affected the livelihood of these fishermen.
But they have not lost hope. The coming months are the peak season for mussel fishing, as the brown mussels spawn from the end of May with peak season during July-August at Vizhinjam.
And it is also the season when at least a few younger members of the family join the older ones to help them with their big catch.