It is that time of the year when sea fish are in short supply and as a result, their prices shoot up.

With the annual ban on deep-sea fishing coming into effect, fishermen along the east coast have stopped going out to sea in mechanised boats. 

The 45-day curb, which began on April 15, is aimed at preventing fishing activity during what is considered fish breeding season in the Bay of Bengal.

With hundreds of mechanised boats staying moored on Monday, the Kasimedu fishing harbour lacked its usual bustle. Similar inactivity was reported in the other fishing districts of Tamil Nadu, as well as Puducherry.

However, the full effect of the ban will show only in the days to come with a dramatic change in patterns of fish trade. Fish caught on the west coast are expected to break into markets here. Consumption pattern is also likely to register changes, with a spurt in demand for freshwater fish. According to experts, carp, catfish, murrell and tilapia will be among the popular choices.

As the ban is directed at fishermen with mechanised boats that put out 20 hp and above and promote the use of trawl nets, those relying on catamarans and low-powered fibre boats can be expected to make a killing. But the latter are far from upbeat. At Naiyanar Kuppam in Uthandi, a group of fishermen who operate fibre boats seems to be in no mood to cash in on the situation.

“As the fish catch is low during this period, the ban does not translate into any major gain for us,” said G. Babu. Besides catamarans, the fishermen in this hamlet use 50 fibre boats with capacities ranging from 7hp to 10 hp, and they don’t venture far into the sea. Like fishermen of their ilk operating elsewhere on the east coast, they bring in thavala, kanan kalathi, vavaal, sheela and sankara fish.

“For another 30 to 40 days, these fish will not be found in huge numbers,” said Kuzhendaivelu. But low catch is the least of their worries. In the Tamil month of Chithirai (April 15 to May 14), fishermen in these parts are gripped by the fear of recurrent storms.

“It is called Chithirai puyal. It strikes sometime during the month,” said M. Lakshmanan who has seen the storm keep its annual appointment since his grandfather’s time.

“Fearing the storm, many fishermen stay off the sea during Chithirai,” said Kuzhendaivelu. Fishermen at Nochi Kuppam also fear this storm. Vinod, a young fisherman, said, “When we see the storm brewing, we leave our nets and head back to the shore.”

During the 45-day period, fishermen across Tamil Nadu are paid a sum of Rs. 2,000 each as succour. Ravichandran, a fibre-boat fisherman of Nochi Kuppam, said, “This is a small amount and we have to go fishing. It does not matter that the catch will be low.”

Some experts, however, question the reasoning in labelling April 15 to May 29 as fish-breeding season in the Bay of Bengal. They believe breeding in the seawater along the east coast is more likely to happen during the northeast monsoon. They have called for a detailed study on this.

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