More than a fortnight has lapsed since the conclusion of the 45-day moratorium on fishing. But, the fisherfolk here have seen ‘two seas', without a catch to name.
The hustle and bustle that accompanies a good catch is absent here at the harbour. The long line of docked boats that are usually seen out in the sea has a different tale to share.
“We have seen two seas , and have returned with a minimum debt of Rs.30,000 after each trip,” says a fisherwoman, watching her sons unload the meagre catch from the just-arrived boat. Except for the stray boats that had ventured out on May 29, all others that had set out since the first week of June have returned with a loss-making catch.
Several boats return half-way in a bid to salvage the loss by not venturing farther.
The winds have played spoilsport this time. The ‘kacchaan kodai kaatru' has driven away the fish, and sea looks ruffled-up, say the fisherfolk. Ideally, this is the time for summer winds, which is absent now. “The pockets where we get our fish have not much to offer,” is the common refrain.
With diesel subsidy, a boat incurs a minimum expenditure of Rs. 50,000 to 70,000 for a four or five-day 'stay' in the sea, including the labour charges. The trip becomes worth the risk and energy only if the catch surpasses the expenditure.
The worst hit is the ubiquitous fisherwoman, crooning out at dawn and dusk with her aluminium vessel filled with fish. At the harbour, these fisherwomen return with empty vessels unable to buy the catch at the price quoted, and with no money for their daily quota of betel leaves.
“I used to fill my vessel with catch worth Rs. 400. But today, the same quantity costs Rs.1,000 which I cannot afford,” says Anjamma. Distress sale is prevalent as the consumer chooses to forego their purchase due to high cost. The catch is just 10 percent of the normal one since the annual moratorium ended.
"I used to take back 300-kg catch; but today it is just 30 kg," says an exporter, a regular here from Kerala.
A communitarian spirit helps them sustain the strain. When the boat returns with a low catch, the labourers settle for a lower payment. And the autos that ferry fisherwomen to and fro the harbour forego their one-way charge if the women are unable to fetch reasonable price for their catch.
Elsewhere in India, the fishing 'holiday' is for 90 days. While the fisherfolk agree that 90 days would allow a greater leeway for breeding of fish species, they also know that they would not be able to take the strain of being out of job for an additional 45 days. "We survive because of the government's compensation of Rs.2,000. If the government can support us for another month, perhaps it may help," says a fisherman.