The 21-day lockdown has left fisher folk in the lurch, as the prevailing situation has forced them to dump their catch back into the sea in some places.

It is reported that the fishing community in Raigad, Maharashtra, are forced to throw back their 15-day catch back into the sea following the closure of ice factories and fishing harbours, and in the absence of transportation facilities to move their cargo.

Fish varieties such as mackerel, tuna, squids, ribbonfish, catfish and prawns have been dumped into the sea, as there are no facilities to stock the cargo at the landing centres. It is estimated that around one lakh tonnes of the catch was thrown away.

Bolt from the blue

Industry sources pointed out that the fishing community in many parts of the country is grappling with huge losses because of the unplanned manner in which the lockdown has been imposed. Besides fisher folks, workers in fish landing centres, ice factories, vendors etc are all struggling.

As the government has declared the list of food items under the Essential Commodities Act, the fishing community is also looking at the Centre for a similar gesture to include fish and related products in the notification so that fish processing, transportation and marketing can be made easy.

Joseph Xavier Kalappurackal, general secretary of All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association, told BusinessLine that these trawling boats from Raigad had no prior information about the lockdown and they ventured into the sea before the restrictions were in place.

When they returned from the voyage, almost all the processing plants were shut. “We are also helpless to respond to their call as the lockdown has hindered all cargo movement,” Kalappurackal said.

Normally, the fishing boats in these regions remain in the seas for over a month and return only after a good catch, he added.

Operational woes

However, the question of dumping the catch back into the sea does not arise in Kerala as the majority of fishing boats do not venture into the deep sea because of the decline in the catch.

The fishing sector here is facing a crisis due to climate change, migration of fish wealth etc, which has resulted in a poor catch. Only traditional country crafts are concentrating on offshore and coastal waters to meet the demand. Chairman of Arambhan Group, Alfred Arambhan told BusinessLine that the biggest stress his companies have been facing is buying fish and vegetables. The fishermen are also not venturing in the sea due to the municipal market lockdowns and the cold storage facilities for fish have also been shut. Since the lockdown, prices of the fish have risen by one and a half to two times.

Arambhan Group also has clod storage facilities in Sasson Dock, which is one of the largest fishing docks in Mumbai. However, operating the facilities is a challenge due to the lack of workforce.

Eknath Tambekar, Member of the executive committee of National Association of Fishermen (NAF), said that business in Mumbai region has come to a halt due to the closing of the wholesale Crawford Market in South Mumbai. At the Crawford Market, quality fish from almost seven states to arrive by the truckloads. However, operating the market was a danger to public health due to overcrowding.

Tambekar, who also has a fish supply business, said that when the lockdown started on last Sunday some suppliers had to throw away the fishes by the truckloads as the municipal markets were closed and cold storage facilities were not operational.