Fishing grounds remain largely barren for traditional fishermen

Prices of some of the much-sought-after local seafood delicacies have soared to an all-time high in Kollam.

Around four sardines that used to be sold at Rs.10 this time last year were sold for Rs.12 per fish on Thursday. The price of mackerel touched Rs.65 a fish and that of seer fish Rs.1,000 a kg in the retail market. The price of seer fish this time last year was around Rs.450 a kg. The price of mackerel had hardly crossed Rs.35 a fish in the past.

Yet, the paradox is that traditional fishermen are not benefitting much from the price spiral because of a poor catch. Though fishermen expected rich harvests because of the sea-churning phenomenon triggered by good rains, the fishing grounds are largely barren.

Meagre returns

Compared to the fuel expenses for each fishing trip, the returns are meagre because only small quantities of the prized varieties could be harvested. Of some 35 boats that returned to the Vaddy landing site of the Tangasseri harbour on Thursday morning, hardly five had one or two baskets of mackerel, though each basket fetched Rs.4,500 at the auction hall. A basket contains about 65 to 70 mackerels.

The sardine catch was still poorer. The fishermen say the fish now abundantly available is the Indian scads (kozhiyala) but hardly in demand. More adventurous fishermen who returned after three days of fishing had some fine harvest of squid. These were sold at Rs.5,000 a basket at the auction hall, but the harvest was hardly sufficient to reach the break-even.

Hoteliers’ woes

Other delicacies such as false trevally (parava), ribbon fish (vaala), lizard fish (uluvachi), and pomfret (avoli) seem to have vanished from the sea, the fishermen say. Hoteliers in Kollam say that though seafood is much sought after by those eating out, they have reduced the seafood dishes on the menu.

C.S. Bahuleyan, district president of the Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association, says there is a limit to which the hoteliers can charge customers. At the current price of seafood delicacies, the hoteliers will only invite the wrath of their guests. Even when a whole seer fish weighing about 10 kg is bought directly from the harbour auction hall, the cost works out to about Rs.750 a kg, he says.

Though tapioca and sardine curry dish served at restaurants during lunch sell like hot cakes, many restaurants have dropped the dish from their menu because sardines have become dear. Guests would expect at last four sardines per dish and serving that much at the current price is unaffordable, Mr. Bahuleyan says. Even supermarkets that sell seer fish have stopped stocking them both because of the high price triggered by shortage.

H. Basilal, district president of the CITU-affiliated Matsya Thozhilali Union, says that even though June-July used to be the time when maximum repayments were made by fishermen on loans taken from the Matsyafed, the repayments are very poor this year. Loans are taken largely for purchasing nets, boats, and outboard engines.

More In: Kerala | National