The trawling ban that fishermen once opposed is welcomed by them now.
As the clock strikes 12 tonight, thousands of trawling vessels along the length of the India’s western coastline will shoot out into the raging seas in their trawling boats. As the 47-day-long trawl ban in the seas comes to an end this year, it also marks the completion of 25 consecutive years of trawling ban seasons on the Kerala coast. “There has been an immense change in the mentality of fishermen on the issue of trawling ban. The same persons who once raised their voices in vehement protest against the trawling ban are now for the ban. The main reason is that the fishermen have seen the results and the improvement in catch for themselves,” said the Joint Director of Fisheries C K Bharathan.
As per the the findings of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), in the last 24 years after the implementation of the ban season, the annual fish production has more than doubled, from about 3.03 lakh tonnes in 1987 to over 7.4 lakh tonnes in 2011.
Fishermen, on the other hand, have learned to adapt to the new trawling ban period. Since the eastern coastline of India has trawling ban during a different season, several fishermen based in Kerala especially those who hail from Tamil Nadu return to their homelands and work in the boats there during the season. The one month period also acts as the time for the fishermen to mend their boats and get the repair work done. Some of the employees of the boats also take to these during the trawl ban season.
But after all the slow work and holiday mood, time has come for some tough competition. On Tuesday, on Ernakulam coast alone the Fisheries Department estimates the operation of over 1100 fishing vessels. Since all the boats are setting out together there is tough competition for the catch and whoever gets it first gets the prize.
“We are asking all the fishermen to follow the rules. In the excitement of winning the big prize, many violate laws including those against trawling within the first 10 km. This happens because whoever reaches first gets to make a huge profit since the demand for fish is very high in the market now,” said the T Peter, state president of Independent Fishworkers Federation.
Meanwhile, from Wednesday morning the harbour would be a busy place. Auctioneers, fishemongers, union members, lottery ticket agents, jeeps and vans and even crows and cats would all be seen anxiously waiting for the first boat that returns with the catch.
Once the boat appears in sight, auctioneers will rush to it and head for the ensuing auction. Within minutes, the sale is done, the fish thrown into baskets, mixed with ice and sent off to markets far and near.
But on the other hand, not everything is as exciting as the first haul. For one, the Fisheries Department has made the registration of vessels extremely strict this time around owing to several concerns including security threats. “We will not allow any boat to venture into the sea on Tuesday night without the registration and licence. At the most the fishermen can give the application and after the verification of the boats they can move to the seas. But otherwise it will not be allowed,” said Deputy Director of Fisheries Department, George Kutty.