Fisherfolk gear up to contend with the sea again; spent 45-day summer break in cleaning, repairs and stocking up on provisions; shrimp catch expected to be good

Fishermen, who are waiting out the 45-day trawling ban on the east coast, are now watching the sea with a mixture of eagerness and anticipation that few can understand.

They know the sea has been rough after cyclone Mahasen and they watch the waves, feel the wind and gauge its speed and direction — all by just standing on the beach.

When the ban lifts on Wednesday at midnight, most of the 543 mechanised boats in the city (of which 300 are big trawlers) will leave Kasimedu fishing harbour and go out into the sea for a week or more. Fisherfolk have been preparing for this for weeks now — removing mussels from the hulls of boats, filling diesel, repairing nets, stocking up on provisions, buying new baskets to bring back the catch and storing ice.

K. Kuppan, a boat owner says he has spent close to Rs. 2 lakh during the ban. He replaced rings and pistons in the engine, paid Rs. 2,500 to the muzhukkaalis to remove mussels and seaweed that stick to the hull of the boat and paid carpenters Rs. 1,200 daily as labour charges to change a few planks.

“I will spend more for diesel, provisions, engine oil, water and ice, but my men and I have to make enough to save up for the monsoon season. Our earnings in June, July and August help us carry on until February,” Kuppan explained.

Each regular-sized boat that comes with an engine and carries at least five persons, takes provisions worth Rs. 20,000, 8,000 litres of water for washing and cleaning, 120 blocks of ice that each weigh 150 kg and also about 25 cans of drinking water.

And while the men repaired boats and nets and did odd jobs, the women sold dry fish to help make ends meet.

“I still have not got the Rs. 2,000 that is given by the State government during the ban season. But fisheries department officials have taken down our details, so I’m hoping it will come soon. I sold a portion of the dry fish that I had kept aside for the family’s consumption for money to buy provisions,” said M. Muthulakshmi of Nettukuppam.

This season, fishermen say, is likely to be good for shrimp. The scorching long summer break is also likely to bring out fish such as kaanan kelithi, kadama, kaala, venjiram and vavval, which hundreds of fishermen are after.

“Some of the big shrimp weigh as much as 70-80 grams and are sold at good rates. As the catch will be good in the first 10 days after the ban, the prices of fish will go down. But we will have more work on our hands than we can handle. If it rains in the next few weeks, the catch will be even better,” said boat driver Kannan, who decides where and when to fish. Most big boats use GPS coordinates to help them, he added.

The money the catch brings in is split — the boat owner takes what he has spent, and divides the rest between himself and the workers. The driver, who operates as the captain of the boat, gets a little more than the other workers.

“A major portion of the spending is on diesel. The State government gives us 1,500 litres of subsidised diesel per boat per month. But for one voyage, a trawler boat uses up to 4,000 litres of diesel and there are at least three voyages in a month. The government bunks at Kasimedu will provide diesel only after June 1. If the catch is good, we will have good earnings. But if nothing comes our way and the earnings are only a few thousands, I will divide it among the men as their families depend on the income,” said Kattandi, a boat owner.

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