Last week, S. Santhosh, a 19-year-old fisherman, got his 100 kg fishing net back.
The kola (flying fish) net worth around Rs. 35,000, as well as the boat it was on, belongs to another man. Santhosh had rented the net and the boat when it was hit by an unknown ship, mid-sea. The incident last week, also led to the death of another fisherman, 45-year-old T. Anandan.
“We found the net floating while searching for Anandan anna,” said Santhosh, who has lost nets during earlier fishing expeditions.
Santhosh was lucky. With prices of fishing nets going up to Rs. 7 lakh, fishermen who lose their nets also lose out heavily on earnings for the season.
Along with nets, fishermen also spend on floats, sinks and long nylon ropes.
“It takes at least five days for us to prepare the net and we work as a team. But if a ship cuts the net off or drags it along in its propellers, it is literally money down the drain. Apart from losing the season’s earnings, we also lose our investment. I bought a net worth Rs. 58,000 just recently, to catch kaanan kelathi fish. We caught fish worth Rs. 50,000 and after all expenses I have Rs. 14,000. But I am here already to buy a net again, for another kind of fish,” said K. Sekar from Tiruvottiyur Kuppam, who was at a net shop on Saturday to get about 12 kg of net to add to another one that had been damaged.
On the small boats that they go out into sea on, fishermen sometimes carry up to 150 kg. “We go in teams and take another big boat and a couple of smaller boats so that the net can be withdrawn safely. The net is let out into the sea for about a kilometre or so, and in that case when a ship comes from nowhere and we cannot pull in the net from one boat, many boats help,” said D. Joseph a fisherman from Nettukuppam, in north Chennai, who recently bought a portion of a net for Rs. 1 lakh.
“We fish as a team of 19 persons. The boat and net we own costs around Rs. 12 lakh. The entire net costs Rs. 7 lakh but since we could not buy it in one go, we bought it in portions as and when we had the money,” said D. Joseph, a fisherman from Nettukuppam. This is called suruku valai and we use it to fish for vanjram and vavvaal,” he said.
For the fishermen working out of Kasimedu fishing harbour, damage to their nets is not new. But for those in the north including in Nettukuppam, Ennore Kuppam, Thalangkuppam, Sivan Padai Veedu and Pulicat, this is a new problem.
“Dredging for deepening the harbour mouth has led to mounds of earth being dumped on the sea bed and when the current is fast, our nets get cut. Similarly, with more ships coming to the Ennore port, our nets are getting cut more frequently. If we ask the ships for money, they just dismiss us,” said Kalaivanan, a fisherman from Nettukuppam.
Fishermen say that though various fishermen’s associations have been petitioning the government for subsidies on nets, their requests have fallen on deaf ears.
M.D. Dayalan of India Meenavar Sangam said that fishermen in Puducherry and Gujarat received subsidies on nets, and that such a facility must be extended to those in Tamil Nadu as well. “In Puduchery, the government runs a net manufacturing plant and there is a 50 per cent subsidy for all fishing requirements. If they do not have the required net, they procure it from outside,” he said.