John L. Paul
KOCHI: Fishermen engaged in operating Chinese fishing nets are facing severe crisis. Only 10 out of the 20 Chinese nets are left on the beach. Dwindling fish catch due to the presence of pollutants and oil in seawater and operation of fishing boats near the beach have left them in the lurch. The situation is so bad that a month back, one of the operators put up a board saying that his net was up for sale.
For robust tourists, a trip to the beach is incomplete without trying their hand at pulling up the massive nets. Very often, even women tourists too join, to the amusement of desi visitors.
Says Owen Hatchard, who was busy pulling one of the nets along with his wife Louise, both of whom are from Britain, "This is my first visit to Fort Kochi. My hands are quite adept at pulling heavy ropes since I am a mountain climber. It is a challenge, but it keeps the fishermen fit and strong. Shipping laws should be changed so that pollution caused by huge ships is stopped. High time, an international body was formed to preserve marine ecology, on which is dependant lakhs of people," he said.
"They were taking the whole weight. I just joined in. We are quite enchanted by the ambience of the place. A few days back, we cooked and ate fish caught in the nets," said Ms. Louise.
John K.B., one of the oldest operators of the nets in Fort Kochi, said that theirs is hard labour. "We start work at 6 a.m. The net has to be pulled up at least once every five minutes and it is a tough job. Our hands have become as hard as stone. We had to spent Rs.3 lakhs to set up the full unit. The Government does not offer any loan or grant, despite the nets being the star attraction on the beach," he said.
The net operators sought the help of the Fisheries Department to compensate their losses, as the tsunami destroyed many of their nets. But no help so far, they said. Each net needs at least five workers and the daily catch does not exceed Rs.1,000.