With hardly 24 hours left for the seasonal trawl ban to hit the fishing sector in the State, Sami K.V. is on all fours, cleaning the deck of the boat along with his co-workers at the Puthiyappa harbour here.
Rough sea conditions on Thursday forced many of the boats to cut short their fishing trips and return for docking. They have just another day’s fishing before the ban comes into effect on June 14 midnight.
In his late forties, Sami has two school-going children. For the next 47 days, he has to be content with 25 kg of rice and 4 kg of wheat that the district supply office would dole out to BPL (below the poverty line) fishermen families till the ban ends on July 31.
As per a government directive, APL (above the poverty line) families are entitled to 9 kg of rice and 3 kg of wheat, while 35 kg of rice is distributed to AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana) families during the trawl ban period.
“With all my expenses at home and the rising prices, I need at least Rs.500 a day. What is the point of getting 25 kg of rice… it hardly makes a difference when I am out of work,” he says. Madhavan V, who works at unloading fish from boats, says the rice given is the Re.1 variety, which, according to him, is hardly edible. But trade union leaders in the fisheries sector say even this dole arrives too late to provide the fishermen any relief.
List comes late
The free ration during the ban is confined to only those who work in registered mechanised fishing boats. The Fisheries Department prepares a list of workers from the details provided by boat owners.
The list is then forwarded to the District Collector concerned, who vets it and passes it on to the district supply office for distribution of the ration. “Inevitably, the list is prepared late. Officials justify that boat workers are a floating lot and every year a new list has to be prepared, causing the delay. But, whatever be the reason, the fishermen get it late, almost towards the end of the ban period. So what is the point of the whole exercise,” N.P. Radhakrishnan, State vice president, Bharatiya Matsya Pravarthaka Sangam, says.
Enquiries with the Kozhikode district supply office have confirmed that the list has not yet reached them, despite Thursday being the eve of the trawling ban. The staff there say they are expecting a “fax” from the Collector’s office by Friday.
But trade unionists, cutting across party lines, question whether a few kilos of free ration is enough compensation for an entire community co-operating with the trawl ban.
“Reducing welfare measures for the fishing sector to just distribution of free ration during the ban is just not fair. The government has to do better than that,” says V. Dinakaran, Matsyafed Chairman, who also heads the Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee, a panel which serves as an umbrella organisation for all trade unions in the fisheries sector.
An expert committee set up by the government to “evaluate fish wealth/impact of trawl ban along Kerala coast” recommends, in its May 2013 report, “provision of monetary relief to fishermen during period of fishing ban in both the mechanised and the traditional sector.” “Even otherwise, this is a sector in which there is no steady income. If we get a catch worth Rs.7,000 a month, we consider ourselves lucky,” Subeir P, a boat worker from Vellayil, says.
For this loss in yield and value of fish along the coast, the expert report blames “destructive fishing practices” and recommends an extension of trawl ban to 75 days. It further calls for the imposition of a second 60-day ban for pelagic fishing in April-May.
“What is the cause of this loss in value and yield despite the ban being in place since 1988? On one side, the ban is so strict for local fishermen that even diesel bunks are closed for us. On the other hand, foreign fishing vessels encroach on our waters and engage in mass-scale fishing. The government has not been able to do anything effective about this,” Mr. Radhakrishnan says.