Amidst the jostle of colourful crates and rambunctious fishermen-parlance, Kavita Kishore finds that sparkling sardines are packed away to God's own country

The Thengathittu fishing harbour is abuzz with activity, with a number of small boats laden with sardine fish being docked. Dozens of people are busy transporting the sardines in metal and plastic buckets towards the parked lorries that are carrying ice.

Still more people are engaged in breaking the ice and the crushed ice is then scooped into similar metal buckets.

A group of men are barking orders, shouting for more sardines and when the sardines are brought in, one man stands with the ice and another with the fish and simultaneously they both start pouring into a larger container.

Rows and rows of plastic crates containing the fish and ice are then lined up to be loaded into lorries and transported to Kerala, the main market for sardines or mathi meen.

According to Venkatesan, one of the lorry drivers, it takes around 10 hours to reach Kerala and the drivers typically drive through the night to avoid major traffic so that they can deliver the fish as soon as possible.

Ban means boon

Now, with the fishing ban being enforced in Kerala, there is a larger demand for sardines. However, since there sardines are found in larger numbers off the Puducherry coast, they are transported to Kerala through the year.

Only when sardine fishing kicked off, off the coast of Puducherry, did the fishermen of the area start flourishing.

It was not until around 20 or 30 years ago that the market and its potential was discovered.

Each of the crates is sold at a profit of around Rs. 800 and since sardines are smaller fish, even the small fishing boats can bring in around 10 crates worth of fish, one of the fishermen, Kumar, said.

Export to other areas explored

So far the only export was to Kerala, where there is a high demand for the fish, but the fishermen are now exploring the possibility of exporting these sardines to other States as well, he said.