Agri Business

Small-time fishermen all at sea as cash dries up amid lockdown

TE Rajasimhan, V Sajeev Kumar Chennai/Kochi | Updated on April 10, 2020 Published on April 10, 2020

Say allowing catamarans to sail in limited hours will ease the problem

Gabriel, a fisherman of Enayam village in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district, is fervently hoping the lockdown is lifted soon and he can venture into the sea again. Sharing his fears and hopes is Sekar at Ayodhya Kuppam, a fishing hamlet in Chennai.

Both Gabriel and Sekar are small-time fishermen who use catamarans to spend a few hours in the sea and return with sizeable quantities of fish — enough to take care of their families. However, the lockdown has forced them to remain on shore, and cash is drying out fast.

Hundreds of catamarans are parked on Chennai’s Marina beach, and at Enayam/Colachel in southern Tamil Nadu, among other coastal areas.

Fishing is his only source of income, said Gabriel, adding that the government should allow it with a daily time limit. “We will ensure social distancing for our own safety,” he said.

Peak season

‘Kabaddi’ P Maran of Nochikuppam, Chennai, said small-time fishermen are in deep trouble due to the lockdown. A fisherman using a catamaran earns ₹500-2,000 a day depending on the season. March and April are typically the best. However, the lockdown has completely ruined his earnings, he said.

Maran, who is also President of the Tamil Nadu Meenavar Munnetra Kazhagam, alleged harassment from police on those who used catamarans. Some were beaten up and had FIRs filed against them, he said. There are nearly 1,500 catamarans in the Marina belt, he added.

While the government encourages the selling of valarpu meen (captive-bred/cultured fish) in the local market, why not allow those brought in in catamarans, Maran asked.

Pawnbrokers are among the main sources of financing when there is a cash crunch, said Ayodhya Kuppam’s Sekar, adding that the Covid crisis that blocked that funding avenue as well.

Compounding his worries is the 60-day fishing ban that starts every year around April 15.

Fishing ban

However, in neighbouring Kerala, the State government lifted the fishing restrictions partially a few days ago, allowing traditional country crafts to venture into the sea. The catch is not to be sold through open auctions — their sale will be decided on by the Harbour Management Societies headed by the respective district collectors. The State Fisheries Department has also developed an IT application to enable hassle-free selling of fish through advanced booking.

But, Charles George, State president, Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi, said the government decision has not elicited an encouraging response from the fisher-folk, particularly because of the low catch due to the drought in the seas being experienced since January. The government had permitted around 300 traditional country crafts to operate within 2.5 km of the coast and the catch was insignificant, he added.

Joseph Xavier Kalappurackal, General Secretary of the Kerala Mechanised Fishing Boat Operators Association, said the government should have allowed small motorised trawling boats as well, which would help fetch a greater quantity of fish at more affordable prices. The traditional crafts mostly get varieties such as anchovies in limited quantities that vary by the day.

However, he added, the mechanised fishing boat operators have decided not to venture into the sea during the lockdown because of the low catch in the west coast in recent times, as well as a shortage of labourers, the majority of whom are migrants.

Published on April 10, 2020

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