Rough times for fisheries to get worse after Covid-19 lockdown is lifted

Fishermen throw their fishing nets in the Chilika Lake in Odisha | Photo: PTI
The fishing industry in the southern part of Tamil Nadu has been impacted ever since the Government announced lockdown 12 days ago. Though fish has been mentioned as an essential in the Government list, fishermen simply aren't able to sell as several restaurants and markets are closed. The situation is expected to get worse after the lockdown is lifted as the annual fishing ban will come into effect on April 15.

South India Fishermen Welfare Association President, K Bharathi, fishermen returning with their catch have been stuck as the fish supply chain on land is restricted. Many had already ventured out to sea when the lockdown was suddenly announced. And now, not even small non-mechanised country-boats are being allowed to go into the sea. The total ban is affecting the survival of those in this trade.

"They are allowing the movement of vegetables, milk and even fish feed in inland farms, but not fish. Why this double standards for those in the land and those at sea," asks Bharathi. There are around 4.5 million people relying on fishing in 13 coastal districts in Tamil Nadu.

Chennai's Kasimedu fish market usually has 150-200 tonnes of fish on Sundays and 100-150 tonnes on other days. There are large fish markets like this in Kanyakumari, Thoothukudi, Rameswaram, Pudukottai, that sell similar or more quantities, apart from small boats venturing from other coastal villages.

At least the fiber boats can be given permission to venture into the sea, Bharathi said. He noted, in Puducherry and Kerala, fishing is allowed with restrictions. The Association has requested the Fisheries Director to allow fiber boats to go to the sea thrice a week and allow selling the fish for restricted hours abiding the social distancing guidelines.

While these are the challenges during the lock in period, post that from April 15 the other challenge for fishermen is the annual ban on fishing, which comes into effect on April 15 for 61 days to protect fishery resources and biodiversity during the breeding season. The Government enforces the ban every year, restricting the fishing activities by all mechanised and motorised vessels fitted with inboard or outboard engines, excluding the non-motorised crafts.

Fisheries Department has now informed the fishermen that it will consider the ban period from March 23, instead of April 15 and it will go extend May 23. Normally, the government offers Rs 5,000 per family during the 61-day ban. It is now working on a total compensation fund of about Rs 242 crore, the Department said. However, there is no use of money if it does not come at the hour of the need and there is no timeline mentioned by the department for disbursement of the money, said Bharathi.

The share of fisheries sector in the total GDP (at current prices) increased from 0.40 per cent in 1950-51 to 1.03 per cent in 2017-18. The sector contributed Rs 1,75,573 crore to the GDP (at current prices) during FY 2017–18 (Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, 2020).

Southern states account for a major chunk of this. For example. the total fish production in Tamil Nadu is estimated at 712,000 tonnes during 2017-18. Tamil Nadu ranks fourth in total fish production of the country. It exported 88,257 metric tonnes of marine products and earned foreign exchange of Rs 4,341.78 crore during 2016-17. The contribution of fisheries to Andhra Pradesh's GSDP is 6.04 pe cent. Overall fish production has more than doubled in the past one decade from 814,000 metric tonnes in 2005-06 to 2.76 million metric tonnes in 2016-17. During 2009-10, the total value of marine exports from Andhra Pradesh was Rs 2,100 crore, which is a 20 per cent share in total Indian sea food exports and enhanced to about Rs 17,000 crore during 2016-17.

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