Slow motion boats, anxious fishermen on the coast
Hit hard by an unprecedented drop in catches, the majority of Kerala’s fishing boats have been idle in recent days, causing anxiety in the sector. While 80% of trawlers have stopped venturing into the sea, traditional fishermen say there has been an alarming decline in the availability of pelagic fish species like mackerel and sardines.
Although the annual lean season is not over, fishermen say they are facing a fish starvation for the first time in several decades. They also believe that this drastic depletion may indicate a change in the marine environment and its ability to rebuild fish stocks.
“Along with the low availability of fish, the rising price of fuel has left us in a difficult situation. The price of diesel was around ₹ 62 last year, but now it hits ₹ 86, which makes a huge difference in total spending. If we cannot come back with a reasonably good catch it will result in increased debt and we have decided to stay out of the water for this reason, ”says Peter Mathias, President of the Fishing Boat Operators Association of Kerala.
Fishermen claim the situation has proven all normal predictions to be wrong and point to many reasons for the famine, including pollution and overfishing. “Only small units are venturing into the sea right now and they are able to survive as prices have skyrocketed due to the shortage. We agree that this is a lean season, but we have never experienced such a shortage before, ”says Jackson Pollayil, President of the Kerala Swatantra Matsyathozhilali Federation.
Since climate change and rising sea temperatures can affect the migratory pattern and size of the pelagic fish stock, they are also concerned that some species have moved away from shallow coastal waters.
“In April and May we usually harvest mackerel and sardines in large quantities, but at the moment both have become scarce. Traditional fishermen depend mainly on the pelagic stock and it now remains almost empty. “
Mr Pollayil adds that unscientific fishing methods, including pair trawling, have also contributed to the situation. “They use Chinese motors and several gears to sift through the three sea levels. They catch a lot of juveniles and that part of the catch goes directly to the fishmeal-based fish oil (FMFO) industry. . In a sense, banning and regulating fishing during the early days of the pandemic helped us because landings were really good in the days after the lockdown, ”he says.
Mr Mathias says that overfishing can be one of the main reasons as a huge number of boats are currently fishing in our sea. “We have boats and craft three times the capacity of our sea and the government continues to give permission. At present, 80% of the boats in the mechanized sector remain out of the water, which is totally unknown under normal circumstances. If this continues, it will be difficult for the sector to stay afloat, ”he adds.