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Waves of change hit Kochi’s icon

John L. Paul
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Chinese fishing nets on city shores may get a makeover for the worse

Improvisation:Due to shortage of stone boulders, concrete counterweights are tied to the ropes of Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi.— Photo: H. Vibhu
Improvisation:Due to shortage of stone boulders, concrete counterweights are tied to the ropes of Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi.— Photo: H. Vibhu

Rain or shine, Alosious and his men dart every few minutes towards their Chinese fishing nets eager to see their catch.

This time around, he and his fishermen colleagues have netted two small fish, plenty of water hyacinths and a few plastic bags. The dejected men are emotionless. They have now got used to this appalling fall in catch along the Fort Kochi beach.

“The polluted coastline and incessant dredging to enable ships to pass are driving away the fish,” Mr Alosious said. This is one of the reasons for the number of Chinese nets halving to 11 from the 22 that dotted the beach over 10 years ago.

Man vs. machines

These iconic nets on the Fort Kochi beach may soon opt for an image makeover for the worse. Their identity is already under threat, with many fishermen replacing the costly and aesthetic teak logs with long galvanised iron (GI) pipes.

Weary of pulling the heavy ropes, many are exploring the possibility of replacing men with machines. The move if realised will rob the nets of their rustic charm. The nets have been an indispensable part of tourism brochures of Kerala Tourism and attract tourists to the State.

“There is acute shortage of hands to pull the nets and the younger generation is not interested. The reluctance of NGOs and tourism stakeholders to help us procure teak wood at subsidised rates has made matters worse and we will be forced to opt for other means to fend for ourselves,” Mr Alosious said.

Already, faced with shortage of stone boulders of the specific shape and size that are tied to the ropes, Alosious has taken the lead in substituting them with concrete ones. The advantage is that ropes have a better grip over concrete. The fishermen spoke of instances where people were killed or had a narrow escape after stone boulders fell on them.

Appu, another fisherman, said the lack of welfare measures by the State government, Fisheries Department and Kerala Tourism had accentuated the problem.

A few stakeholders in tourism even go to the extent of exploiting these men. “Some travel agencies and their guides charge Rs.500 and above from tourists on the promise that they will be shown the nets and even permitted to pull the ropes. The fishermen often do not get a single penny from them,” he said.

Former Mayor and the Convenor of the Kerala Chapter of Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) K.J. Sohan said the State government and Kerala Tourism were not interested in helping the fishermen. “Depots run by the Forest Department have ample quantity of teak logs and these must be supplied to fishermen at subsidised rates.” He called upon the operators of the Vallarpadam and LNG terminals, for which crores of rupees are invested, to give a portion of their corporate social responsibility fund to the distressed fishermen.

“This is all the more important because the nets are a living heritage, having been introduced here by the Portuguese. Any delay might result in them becoming fossilised heritage, confined to museums.”

The possibility of sourcing national culture funds and the help of the State’s art and heritage commission too has to be probed, Mr. Sohan said.

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