Fish story

Fascinating experience This is how fishermen work

Fascinating experience This is how fishermen work   | Photo Credit: Photo: Lakshmi Sharath


Whoever knew fishing involved such intricacies?

“Can you see that light, madam? It has seven bulbs.” Balu points across the vast expanse of water to a horizontal contraption with outstretched rods. “That’s a Cheena vala,” he says, referring to the Malayalam word for the Chinese fishing net, believed to have been brought into Kerala by the 14 Century Chinese mariner, Zheng He.

I am at the Ashtamudi Lake, near Kollam, sailing around the islands. Balu from the local resort accompanies me on my morning cruise. The entire waterscape is littered with these shore-operated stationary nets. Long metallic and wooden rods jut out into the waters, held in place by ropes.

Hard work

We sail a bit closer to take a look. The structures are more than 10 metres high. The nets are outstretched on the rods. Fishing apparently starts at night. A net can be operated by a team of five fishermen. They normally submerge the net to a certain depth. The lights suspended from these rods are placed on the surface of the water and used to attract the fish and crustaceans. The electric cable stretches out from the fishermen’s homes on the bank. “You can find more than a thousand fishing nets,” says Balu.

A good day’s catch

Popular in Kochi, they are used by local fishermen to mainly catch prawns and crabs. Balu tells me that on a lucky night, the catch can be anything from four kg to 10 kg. We move on passing islands and islanders as Balu points out to “seacrows”. These cormorants were perched on the rods immersed in water.

“This is to catch Karimeen,” he says referring to the palm-sized pearl spot fish, a delicacy in the backwaters. According to him, the fishermen promote fish breeding.

The fish is caught by hand, explains Balu, a practice called ‘vellavali’. The rods are plant stems replanted on the water. The fish feed on their leaves.

It is Sunday and the backwaters are silent. It is a five-day week for the fishing community. As we sail back, Balu sums up: “There are different kinds of specialists for various varieties of fish and each technique is different from the other, even the nets used…”

And, to think we took this for granted!

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