These days, when traditional fishermen based at the Tangasseri Harbour in Kollam return from sea, their boats are virtually empty.
But when the traditional fishermen based at the Neendakara Harbour, about 5 kms to the north, return after fishing in the same sea, their boats are heavily loaded with the prized export-oriented naaran prawns (white prawns).
At a time when a ban on mechanised fishing is in force in the State through the annual ban on trawling, this sounds puzzling.
The fact, though it may sound odd, is that the catch brought to Tangasseri is harvested by true traditional methods. But the one that lands at Neendakara is alleged to be harvested by covert mechanised means.
The fish comes to Neendakara in traditional vessels to make it appear like the product of traditional fishing, but in reality the catch is transferred to the vessels from huge inboard engine-fitted vessels called kappalvallom that anchor away from the harbour.
The Neendakara harbour, which used to be kept closed during the annual trawl-ban period since the past 24 years, was opened to traditional fishing from July 26 with just six more days left for this year’s 47-day trawling ban to end.
While the quantity of naaran prawns brought to the harbour by traditional crafts was huge and raised questions on whether average-sized traditional boats could harvest such huge quantity, it was also noticed that these boats were not carrying any nets when they entered the harbour.
T. Peter, All India secretary of the National Fishermen Forum, said the traditional boats that brought the catch to the harbour were in fact carrier boats of the inboard engine-fitted boats. He said the fishing methods employed by such inboard engine-fitted boats could not be classified as traditional though they were only built to look traditional.
He alleged that an inboard engine-fitted boat, which would cost almost double that of a normal mechanised fishing boat, needed huge investment and many of them were operated by mechanised fishing boat owners. Except for a cabin, all operations of these boats were mechanised. Their nets, which could spread up to 4 square kilo meters and touch the seabed, were also destructive.
It was de facto violation of the trawling ban, a process carried out under the label of the Kerala Monsoon Fishery (Pelagic) Protection Act 2007, Mr. peter said. He wanted the government to strictly enforce the already existing ban of such methods of fishing.
Backing Mr. Peter, Charley Joseph, president of the Kollam District Mechanised Fishing Boat Operators Association, also said fishing methods of the inboard engine-fitted boats were fully mechanised and hence detrimental to the very aims of the annual trawling ban.
Secretary of the association Peter Matyas said those who gave permission for such boats to enter the harbour during the trawl ban period should consider whether the genuine traditional fishing sector truly benefitted from such act.
But leaders of the Neendakara Fishing Harbour Coordination Committee, an organisation of the Neendakara-based traditional fishermen, stressed they were basically traditional fishermen though some aspects of their fishing methods used in inboard engine-fitted boats were mechanised.
The decision to allow traditional farming during trawl ban period was taken at a hig-level meeting called by Fisheries Minister K. Babu at Thiruvananthapuram on July 24 in the presence of Labour Minister Shibu Baby John.
The decision also underlined that inboard engine boats would not be allowed into the harbour during the trawl-ban period.
The State government took such a decision in the wake of strong protests by the Neendakara-based traditional sector.
The protests led to a showdown between the Kollam-based traditional and mechanised sectors.
It even moved towards creating law and order problems, as the traditional fishermen threatened that they would forcefully enter the harbour.