With hardly three weeks left for the annual trawl ban, the fisheries sector in the State is teetering on the brink of a tipping point.
As per reports, more than 500 trawlers were scrapped during the last one-and-a-half years rendering hundreds of fishers jobless. A large percentage of the traditional fleet too has stopped venturing into the sea and currently the sector is in the throes of a severe livelihood crisis.
“I bought my boat in 2017 when the diesel price was around ₹50. Member of a modest fisher family, I had to mortgage my house to raise the money. Five years down the road, we live in a rented house and my boat was sold to scrap dealers last month. I had invested over ₹20 lakh and the scrap price was ₹6 lakh. The vessel was seaworthy when I scrapped it and the average life span of a boat is around 20 years. Operational costs have tripled over the last few years and many of us are forced to scrap the boats,” says Paul, a boat owner.
700 boats scrapped
At present a slew of vessels at various yards in the State are waiting to get scrapped. “Nearly 700 boats were scrapped across Kerala in the past couple of years. If this continues the sector will come to a standstill within the next six months,” says Joseph Xavier Kalappurakkal, general secretary, All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association.
According to association president Peter Mathias, the next season will be the last straw for many and if the post-monsoon landings are not good, scrapping will be the only choice. “After the crisis deepened it became so hard to sell boats. Second-hand boats had a good market as they can be used for a reasonable period with proper maintenance. But today venturing into the sea means heavy losses and there are no buyers for boats. Most of the boat owners are struggling to manage mounting debts and they are scrapping vessels in good condition since they can’t afford daily trips and maintenance,” he says.
Mr. Kalappurakkal says the hostile attitude of the Fisheries department is a major factor deepening the crisis. “We are ready to switch to any method that can control juveniles entering the nets. It is practically impossible to avoid by-catch even with the square mesh nets. In the middle of this crisis boats are slapped with heavy penalties.”
He adds that all stakeholders, including vendors, processors and exporters, are planning to form a collective to save the sector and launch Statewide protests.
“You need ₹26,500 to renew the fishing licence in Kerala whereas it’s from ₹1,000 to ₹3,000 in other States. Government keeps talking about the welfare schemes they introduced, but they are doing nothing to protect the livelihood of nearly 15 lakh fishers,” he adds.