Kochi’s fish markets await modernisation

(Left) The Champakkara fish market, established around 1950, has come to define the city’s fish-dominated food culture. (Below) A view of the Thoppumpady fish hub, which is run under the supervision of the Cochin Port Trust.

(Left) The Champakkara fish market, established around 1950, has come to define the city’s fish-dominated food culture. (Below) A view of the Thoppumpady fish hub, which is run under the supervision of the Cochin Port Trust.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Though the fisheries sector is key to the city’s economy, most of the markets are in poor condition

With nearly 50 km of coastline, more than one lakh tonnes of fish catch annually, and dozens of fish markets supporting its economy, Ernakulam district has its life closely tied to the fortunes of the fisheries sector. Kochi is located in the heart of these activities and the city’s fish markets, mostly in poor condition now, are looking to a new future, thanks to initiatives by the government.

Champakkara market

The Champakkara fish market, renowned for its brackish water fresh catch every morning, has come to define the city’s fish-dominated food culture. Established around 1950, the market has been crying for modernisation for a long time now.

It is estimated that around 25 tonnes of fish pass through its doors daily and around 500 people depend on it directly for their livelihood.

The Kerala State Coastal Area Development Agency has prepared a draft plan for the development of the market for the Kochi Corporation.

The draft modernisation plan, which was prepared about three months ago, was pending approval by the Kochi Corporation so that a detailed project report could be prepared, said an official.

Metro project

The extension of the Kochi metro rail service to Thripunithura and the expansion of the highway passing by the Champakkara market had seen the market space shrinking substantially, said P.P. Jayan, a long-time fish worker in the market. He said the promise of better facilities had been made long ago. B. Sunesh, a daily fish buyer, said Champakkara was part of Kochi’s fish culture and the market called for an immediate revamp to bring it up to date with the growing culinary culture.

The Coastal Area Development Agency plans include acquisition of about 50 cents of land held by private owners to build the new facility that will include a two-storey market complex as well as spacious auction halls and fish stalls.

Corporation councillor V.P. Chandran, who represents the area comprising the Champakkara market, said the Coastal Area Development Agency report was being looked at. However, he said the Kochi Corporation would not be in a position to implement the project on its own, considering the investment required. He hoped agencies such as Kochi Metro Rail Limited and the State government would come forward to support the establishment of a modern market.

The draft DPR for the Champakkara market was prepared using ₹5 lakh set aside by the Kochi Corporation in its last budget. A modern fish market and stalls with matching facilities will need substantial investments. The Coastal Area Development Agency is yet to make an estimate of the investments that will be needed.

An area of 385 sq. metres as well as auction sheds are part of the plan for Champakkara. An official of the Coastal Area Development Agency also said that a ring road would be built to decongest the market, which now functions close to the proposed jetty for the Kochi Water Metro project. Mr. Chandran said the Kochi metro authorities had been asked to consider the smooth functioning of the Champakkara market while the water metro jetty was established on the northern side of the market.

Varapuzha market

The Varapuzha fish market is on equal footing with Champakkara market when it comes to its role in city life. The market, about 80 years old, handles around 10 tonnes of fish daily and more than a hundred fish vendors depend on it for their livelihood.

The market is crying out for a revamp for a long time now though the Varapuzha panchayat has not been able to find sufficient funds to match its requirements. However, the panchayat will invest ₹1 crore immediately to establish a waste treatment and biogas plant in the first phase of a modernisation plan.

Valsala Balan, member of the panchayat, said a plastic shredding unit too was being established to take care of the problem of waste associated with the market. The biogas plant is expected to solve the problem of daily waste generation at the market.

B.K. Mani, veteran fish trader, said the panchayat had not been able to generate enough funds to take care of the needs of the growing fish market. He claimed that the traders themselves had been investing in improving facilities. However, the situation was set to change, he said, with the growth of business and the growing importance of the market.

Distribution centres

The Champakkara and Varapuzha markets are crucial to the fishing economy of the district as they act also as distribution centres for other smaller markets in the district and even some markets outside Ernakulam.

While fish caught off the coast of Munambam, Vypeen, Chellanam, Alappuzha and even Kozhikode arrive in Champakkara, the market is also the focus of fish business in markets in Idukki and Kottayam districts. Thodupuzha, Moovattupuzha and Ettumanoor are also catered to by the city markets.

These markets are also central to the fish-eating culture where local catch is crucial.

The markets sell 25 to 30 marine fish species, dominated by the local catch that include pearlspot, tilapia, catfish and shrimp from the backwaters as well as marine catch favourites such as mackeral, silver pomfret, oil sardines, seer fish and threadfin breams and anchovies.

Thoppumpady hub

While the Champakkara and Varapuzha markets await a new birth, the Thoppumpady fish landing centre and auction centre are in for a big makeover as the Marine Products Export Development Authority has proposed modernising such facilities across India at a total investment of around ₹2,500 crore.

Upgrading and establishing facilities such as air-conditioned auction halls, cold storage and ensuring fresh water supply will involve an investment of up to ₹100 crore. A detailed project report is expected to be ready this month.

The Thoppumpady fish hub is at present run under the supervision of the Cochin Port Trust. The upgrade of the facility is being taken up in consultation with the stakeholders. B. Majeed of the Fisheries Harbour Coordination Committee welcomed the move and said that in terms of its importance, the Thoppumpady harbour figured at the top of the fisheries operations in Kochi.

Special purpose vehicle

According to the plans, a special purpose vehicle will be formed for the development of the fisheries market and harbour with an eye on the export market that will ultimately help substantially increase fishermen’s earnings.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:52:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/kochis-fish-markets-await-modernisation/article30994732.ece

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