Tamil Nadu

Fishing, a costly affair for country boat fishermen

Thirty eight-year-old S.A. Nathan had set out for fishing with his colleagues in a Vallam (country boat) on Tuesday morning and returned after four days of fishing on the high seas to earn a meagre Rs.1,300.

Like Nathan, scores of country boat fishermen in this island eking out uncertain livelihood as their wages were linked to the catches they get on a particular fishing venture.

Their plight is in no way different from mechanised boat fishermen, except they do not get arrested and harassed by the Lankan navy.

After spending four days on the high seas, Nathan and five other fishermen returned on Saturday with a catch, which was sold for Rs. 28,000.

After meeting the expenditure of Rs. 12,000, the boat owner took his share of 50 per cent of the balance Rs. 16,000 and the remaining Rs. 8,000 is shared by the six fishermen.

“Sometimes the catch will be just enough to meet the expenditure and we have to be content with the allowance of Rs. 200,” says Nathan, a sixth standard dropout and has been fishing since the age of 12 years. “We do hit jackpots with a catch worth Rs.1.5 lakh but that is once in a blue moon,” he says.

He could not imagine being a boat owner as it involved a minimum investment of Rs.10 lakh. “I could have probably become a boat owner had the government helped me with subsidy or interest free loan,” he says with a derisive laughter.

An unskilled construction worker would earn more than the fishermen, but they had no option. Most of the fishermen have been fishing since their childhood and they do not know any other work, says S.P.Royappan, country boat fishermen leader.

For owners also, fishing has become a costly affair. They spend Rs.12,000 when they let the boat for fishing with a lion’s share of expenditure on diesel. The government offered 300 litres of subsidised diesel per month but they used 80 to 100 litres of diesel per fishing venture.

“Most of the days we would be happy if we break even,” says R. Richard, a boat owner. As most of the owners had built the boats after borrowing money from traders and money lenders, they were fighting it hard to repay the loans, he says.

The boat owners would also have to replace the nets once a year spending Rs.2.5 lakh to Rs. 7.5 lakh, says S. Kembis, a boat owner. The government could consider increase the subsidised diesel quota and provide interest-free loans and subsidies for the fishing folk to improve their standard of living, he says.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 12:19:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/fishing-a-costly-affair-for-country-boat-fishermen/article5977686.ece

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