Rising Costs and Declining Catches Deflate Maharashtra’s Trawl Boom | Mumbai News
Like much of the state, the 300 or so trawlers in this thriving village on the city’s northwest shore have been stranded by high diesel prices and an export backlog. But Foka abandoned its trawls a few years ago for the more traditional gillnet. The income is not as high as in the case of the export oriented trawl. But neither are the fuel and labor costs.
As for the catch of needlefish (tol) that he has just landed, he will sell it on the local markets. “You can manage,” Foka said.
Maharashtra’s trawlers have had bad years. The pandemic hit export demand last year, and cyclones hit the target in 2019. But their problems predate the current crisis. For several years now, rising input costs and depletion of fish stocks due to overfishing have left this once booming industry with ever-shrinking margins.
The number of trawlers in the state has increased from 5,613 in 2012 to 4,290 today, well above the optimal number for a sustainable fishery.
While some boats may be under repair, fewer new boats can be built due to rising costs and the end of a government loan program in 2012, observers said. New wooden boats now cost more than Rs 50-60 lakh – double what they were ten years ago – and fiberglass boats even more. Some fishermen, like Foka, have returned to dolnets or gillnets, or extended to allied companies.
“It has become more difficult to cover the costs, especially for small-scale fishermen,” said Ramdas Sandhe, president of Maharashtra Rajya Macchimar Sahakari Sangh Ltd.
Trawling became dominant from the 1970s, when central government programs helped traditional gillnet and gillnet fishermen convert to mechanized boats and, decades later, switch to high horsepower engines. . Trawls pick up fish that live near the seabed – a destructive practice known as bottom trawling – including large amounts of shrimp. The trawl boom transformed villages such as Versova, which was close to urban and export markets, and increased the state’s fish production from the 1980s to the 2000s.
But with too many boats chasing too few fish off the northwest coast – including heavily subsidized fleets from Gujarat – returns have started to decline. Some have switched to high-speed engines to drive out mackerel schools (bangda). Yet year-over-year growth in the state’s catch has been declining since 2000, according to an analysis by fisheries economist M Krishnan and others.
They found that the state’s fishing revenues were largely supported by rising export prices. The price of shellfish such as shrimp and lobster, for example, increased 400% between 1997 and 2016. “Fishing beyond the sustainable threshold may give you a high current income, but it eats away at your future,” he said. Krishnan said.
Even in the affluent Versova, some feel the pressure. Boats that used to take good catches near Mumbai now have to go as far as Gujarat or Ratnagiri, thus increasing days at sea. Wages and diesel prices have increased as public fuel subsidies have been blocked for three years.
Some fishermen from Alibaug have returned to the dol-nets but Rajendra Hire from Versova does not see this as an easy option, especially since the ONGC platform near Mumbai restricts their fishing grounds. The pollution has also affected fish nurseries close to shore, he notes. The Dol-nets also catch fish that must be dried in the sun – there isn’t enough room for that in a now built up neighborhood.
Instead, Hire opened a store to sell fishing nets over a year ago. “It helps me supplement my income,” said the trawl owner.
Historically, the government has subsidized the quantity of fish, not the quality, said marine fisheries expert Divya Karnad. New central government policies now focus on cold chain systems to improve the quality of fish after capture. But they also encourage the building of deep-sea fishing vessels to compete on the international high seas. “Everyone recognizes that the trawlers have gone as far as they can,” Karnad said.
(This report was supported by the Earth Journalism Network.)