“It is a large lake. Nobody will come to your help if something goes wrong. You have to take care of yourself. This was the lesson my brother taught me 20 years ago when I first learnt to fish,” says S. Mahadevi, the lone fisherwoman of Nathampet in Kancheepuram.
Living on the bank of the Nathampet lake, the 35-year-old opted to fish rather than just sell fish on the streets like other women in her village. Her day begins at 4 a.m. when she collects a token from the fisheries department and gets into the lake on an inflated tyre tube.
Pushing the water with her legs, she reaches her chosen spot for the day and spreads her gill net. “I tuck my sari and get onto the tube with a prayer. I don’t feel out of place despite all the 40-odd persons on the lake being men. I am just doing my job,” says Mahadevi.
The gills of the fish, including thilapia, veraal, kelithi, Indian cutla, mirgal, rogu, common and grass carp, get caught in the net and after four hours of staying in the water she returns to the fish landing at the far end of the lake.
An official of the fisheries department said, generally, women do not engage in traditional fishing practices.
“It is hard work and requires a lot of stamina. Though initially I found it very tough and tiring, I overcame it and the only thing that still is a problem are the blisters and sores due to staying in the water for long hours. But we use an ointment and get on with the work,” she says smilingly.
Every day, around 40 inland fisherfolk earn their living by fishing in this lake on the outskirts of Kancheepuram town. With a water spread of 94 acres, the lake belongs to the Water Resources Department and fishing rights have been given to the fisheries department.
“Even in summer, the lake has water as treated sewage is let into the water body, which allows the residents of Nathampet to fish at least 300 days a year. This was classified as a rural fisheries demonstration tank and so the fisheries department also allows rearing of fish in the waters,” explained a source in the fisheries department.
The daily catch varies between 150 kg and 300 kg and the naturally occurring species are more dominant in this. For the native species, the fishermen get 50 per cent of the proceeds from sale and for the stocked varieties, 25 per cent.