Buyback plan to get deep sea fishing scheme out of troubled waters

While fishermen will retain ownership of deep sea fishing boats, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Development Corporation will procure the catch from them

September 22, 2019 12:54 am | Updated 12:54 am IST - CHENNAI

The tardy progress on coverage of the deep sea fishing scheme appears to have prompted the authorities to consider introducing a buyback arrangement.

“While fishermen will retain ownership of deep sea fishing boats and continue to engage in fishing, the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Development Corporation will procure the catch from them. We are also contemplating enlisting the services of foreign companies in providing training to the fishermen,” said Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar, adding that there was a huge market among European countries for tuna, which is caught through deep sea fishing.

The Corporation may also take care of a portion of the capital cost of the boats, the Minister said.

Alternative to trawling

Promoted as an alternative to bottom trawling by Tamil Nadu’s fishermen off the Palk Bay, the scheme envisages the provision of 2,000 deep sea fishing boats in place of trawlers by 2019-20, which will be the third and final year of implementation of the scheme. Thus far, 10 boats have been handed over to fishermen, against the original target of 1,000 boats in the first two years of the scheme. Of the 65 boats for which work orders have been issued, 49 are under construction. Construction work on five more boats is expected to begin shortly, according to a senior official of the Fisheries Department.

The total cost of the scheme is ₹1,600 crore, of which the Central government’s share will be ₹800 crore and the State’s will be ₹320 crore, all of which is meant for meeting the cost of the boats.

In addition, the State government is providing a subsistence allowance of ₹5,000 per month for three months for each boat, the cost of which will add up to ₹21 crore.

Cost burden

A cross-section of fishermen in Ramanathapuram and Nagapattinam districts said the cost associated with the boats was too heavy a burden for them to bear. S.R. Jesuiruthayam, of Thangatchimadam in Rameswaram, complained that the actual cost was much higher than the figure quoted by the officials at the time of the scheme’s launch.

“At that time, we were under the impression that the overall cost would be a little over ₹80 lakh per boat. This was why we had agreed to take part in the scheme, even though we had to bear 30% of the cost of each boat — 10% (₹8 lakh) through individual contribution and 20% (₹16 lakh) through loans. But if you add the cost of nets, the overall cost goes up by at least ₹20 lakh. Besides, the Goods and Services Tax is being levied on us,” Mr. Jesuiruthayam explained.

When asked about the cost, the official said it was worked out on the premise that the fishermen will not have to shell out much. Besides, the scheme required participating fishermen to dispose of their trawlers and use the money they earned towards their contribution for the scheme.

Ban period

There is one more factor that comes in the way of the scheme gaining popularity. S.N. Mohandas, of Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam district, said that while he was all for the authorities promoting the concept of deep sea fishing, the government should change the period of the ban on fishing, which currently is from April 15 to June 14 in the east coast region and from June 1 to July 31 in the west coast. Instead of April-June, the authorities could declare October-December [northeast monsoon] as the ban period, he suggested.

“There are two reasons (for changing the ban period). We are advised not to venture into the sea in times of cyclonic systems, which we invariably get during the monsoon. Two, red crabs, which can be spotted during that time, wreak havoc on our nets,” he explained.

Agreeing with his contention, Mr. Jayakumar said the State government had taken up the ban period issue with the Centre. “The Central government has been ascertaining the views of other coastal States in the eastern region. While some are for the change, others aren’t. Only after arriving at a consensus can the Union government effect the change,” the Minister pointed out.

Despite these issues, the scheme does have some positive features. A. Anandan Baiva, from Thangatchimadam, said he was feeling relieved these days, even when his people went out on a two-week-long trip. This was in stark contrast to the experience he had when those employed by him went fishing in the Palk Bay, using trawlers.

“Even though the voyage was only for hours back then, I was extremely nervous as I was worried about their safety or whether they had been caught by the Sri Lankan authorities,” he recalled.

The official was optimistic about greater acceptance among fisherfolk of deep sea fishing, which yields much higher revenue per voyage than other forms of fishing. Instances of a voyage yielding a gross income of about ₹9.5 lakh were becoming frequent, he added.

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