Chennai’s fishmarkets are empty due to the COVID-19 lockdown

With Kasimedu fishermen not heading to sea due to the 21-day lockdown, an unusual calm has descended on the city’s fish markets

“Look, a man has just got off a car and is coming towards us,” exclaims K Kalyani, while she is on the phone with me. She has a stall at the Nochi Kuppan fish market. “What do you want?” she asks the customer, and the phone line soon fills up with noise. Kalyani abruptly cuts the call. It is only fair that she pays more attention to her customers these days than waste precious time talking to a journalist. For, with the 21-day lockdown to break the COVID-19 chain, every customer who comes by is crucial to her business.

Minutes before, the 44-year-old was in a chatty mood. “At Nochi Kuppam, we have all come to a decision that none of us will get more stock,” she said. “We are allowed to sell what we have at hand, but not to buy more.” I spoke to her last week and she had some freshwater prawns to sell. Kalyani usually gets her prawns from Pulicat, but due to vehicular restrictions, she was forced to source the prawns locally. Customers too, queued up in front of her, unlike their usually disorderly selves. “The police have marked lines with kolam powder so that there is a distance between each customer,” she added.

Her colleagues have set up their stalls as well, but are running out of fish. “We bought stock from some fibreboats that went to sea,” she explained. “By the end of today, I will have nothing to sell and will have to close down my stall.” This is going to be a tough phase for people like her. “But it had to be done,” says R Mayandi, a Kasimedu fisherman who owns a line-fishing boat. “I’m not going to sea; with the yearly State government fishing ban on mechanised boats set to start on April 5, looks like it will take a long while for us to go back to sea.”

Fisherman Vinoth Kumar from Odaikuppam says that his and two other fishing settlements in Besant Nagar have decided to stay away from fishing during the lockdown. “I have closed my shop too. This is a decision taken voluntarily after discussing with fishermen here. We don’t foresee any demand, nor can we home-deliver due to movement restrictions.”

Kasimedu fishing harbour wears an unusually quiet look, according to MD Dhayalan, president, Indian Fisherman Association. “None of the boats are going to sea since we have been instructed by the Fisheries Department to not go,” he says. “Besides, all the boat workers are from Andhra Pradesh and places such as Thiruvannamalai and Gingee. They have gone back home.” On days before the Sunday curfew and the lockdown, people thronged the fish market at Kasimedu. He adds: “We got a good price too.”

(With inputs from Chitradeepa Anantharam)

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 2:49:11 PM |

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