Traditional fishers find going tough

Traditional fishermen venturing into sea at the Tangassery harbour in Kollam. C. Sureshkumar  

With pelagic catch hitting an all-time low and various COVID-19 related curbs in place, traditional fishers are staring at a prolonged dry spell.

Normally fishers in the traditional sector look forward to June when the trawl ban is in place and the monsoon currents offer a good harvest. But this year they have been hit hard by multiple factors, including erratic weather and strict clampdowns at harbours.

“After hitting the rock bottom during the last several months, we had pinned all our hopes on this season. But we could venture into the sea only once since the ban came into effect,” says Harikumar, a fisher from Alappad.

Instead of the regular 200 to 250 days, the fishers got hardly 65 working days last year and now, many days into the peak season, their plight continues. “We usually come back with huge hauls of sardine, mackerel, and shrimps, but now the season is too dull. Apart from a reasonable catch of shrimp from Alappuzha, none of the boats that ventured into the sea from the southern coast made a profitable trip in the past two weeks,” says Ansari from Punthura.

The season in 2021 began with rough sea alerts restricting all fishing activities and lockdown on the weekends. The revised COVID-19 guidelines and repeated weather warnings often create confusion among the fishers and in many places cases were filed against boat owners.

In Kollam, the biggest fish landing centre in the State, crafts can venture into the sea only on alternate days. “Boats that return with nearly-zero catch can't touch waters the next day due to this and some get only two working days a week. When the harbours were reopened last month, antigen tests were made mandatory to enter. Many of us had to take the test at private hospitals as the government facilities were insufficient. When fishing villages or harbours fall into the list of containment zones, a lot of people are denied the opportunity to work,” adds Harikumar.

Since the trawl ban along the east coast came to an end this week, there will be a huge inflow of fish to the State from Tamil Nadu, posing another challenge to the fishers. “There will be an abundance of fish in markets as trucks from Tamil Nadu reach Kerala much earlier than we return with the day’s catch,” says Jackson Pollayil, president, Kerala Swatantra Matsyathozhilali Federation.

He also points out that harbour management societies that were expected to regulate all activities in harbours are now dysfunctional in many districts. After the 2020 lockdown, the societies had taken over marketing and distribution much to the relief of fishers. “Private lobbies have sabotaged the system and we are forced to pay commission. Though the government had promised freezer facilities, nothing materialised. And instead of helping the fishers in distribution, Matsyafed is now functioning more like a microfinance unit offering loans. The Kerala Fishermen's Welfare Fund Board is also a failure compared to other boards when it comes to offering support,” he says.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 3:55:47 PM |

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