Fisherman Poverty in India
Remela Mendela, 65, sells fish for a living. On Jan. 17, Friday, she worked from 3:30 am to 8:30 pm. That is 17hrs.
Her profit: zero.
Anything she earned she spent on transportation and food for the day. She does this almost every day. This is the reality for millions of fisherman families throughout India.
- Tamil Nadu (91% under the poverty line — 201,855 families)
- Puducherry (90.39% under the poverty line — 14,347 families)
- Karnataka (84.09% under poverty line — 32,479 families)
This fishermen poverty in India is due to 3 leading root causes.
Throwing Away Fish
During the process of spoilage, the quality of fish goes down dramatically. The biggest contributor to fish spoilage is a lack of sufficient cold chain throughout the fish value chain. Storing fish above 32°F fuels the growth of microorganisms and the overall spoilage rate. Spoilage can never be reversed or undone once it has it has happened, but it can be slowed with immediate, effective cooling. Cooling can also help prevent or slow the development of rigor mortis in fish, which occurs as a result of enzymatic reactions at the cellular level causing the muscle tissue to stiffen. Cold temperatures help to retard the rigor mortis process, allowing the fish to remain pliable and marketable for longer.
Fish are also commonly sorted and graded on the outdoor floors of fish markets. As a result of poor hygiene, fish can become infected with bacteria or infested by pests. Even during the rainy season spoilage can occur due to reduced sanitation.
Oversupply + Low Value
Seasonal fluctuations in demand can cause vast amounts of fish to be discarded before it is even sold to traders. During the monsoon season from May-June, for example, prawn and commercial fish are given priority over “trash fish” (fish with little commercial value, usually smaller or sold for use in animal feed). Due to limited space onboard, 80–90% of trash fish caught is discarded at sea in Maharashtra. Only in areas where there’s a high demand for dry fish or fishmeal is this number lower.
Additionally, during high season oversupply can result in prices dropping to 50% of their normal value.
Overfishing (Not Enough Fish)
There has been a gradual increase in the number of mechanized boats that operate along the Uttar Kannada coast from 1957 to 1993. In the last two decades, there has been a threefold increase in mechanized boats in Uttar Kannada. With the increased entry of mechanized crafts today, about 85% of the catch is captured by the mechanized sector, thereby depriving the traditional fishermen of their source of sustenance.
Sometimes they operate near the coast making it even worst for local fishermen who have fewer resources to fish farther from the coast. Only 1–2% of small-scale fishermen have motorized boats so fishing farther away involves using manual labour to move the boats farther away(ex. paddling).
Fishing farther away from the coast also includes problems with cold storage because they do not have enough ice + insulation to keep the fish cold enough for the long period of time it takes to travel. Instead of fishing for a day, it can take multiple causes for the fish initially caught to spoil on the way back to the coast.
CMFRI data reveals a 9% decline in overall fish catch in 2018 as compared to the previous year. The 2018 annual fish landing data from the institute also showed a 54% decline since 2017 of the Indian oil sardine (Sardinella longiceps), a pelagic fish found abundantly in the Arabian Sea, particularly the coastal waters that cover Karnataka. The Indian Oil sardine used to make up 30–40% of the catch and now it makes up 5%.
Karnataka’s coastline has a lot of illegal foreign and local fishermen. There are many Acts in place to regulate how the industrial fishing business works but a lot of large-scale fisheries ignore this and fish anyways. The Acts are in place but there aren’t enough coastal guards available to monitor the illegal boats. Knowing this, these unregistered boats take advantage of the lack of security and continue to catch and fish an excessive amount of fish.
“Yes, illegal fishing is still happening,” said Manjula ShriShenoy, assistant deputy director at the department of fisheries, Mangalore. “In December, we caught two boats. We found generators for light fishing, higher horsepower (HP) [the limit is 350 HP], and mismatching registration certificate RC. We fined them INR 40,000 and 65,000 each. But there are more. But we are too short-staffed to do continuous surveillance.”
The fisheries department currently has a 40% occupancy. “Out of 43 seats, we have 25 lying vacant. None of our field officers are from Dakshin Kannada,” she said. “We don’t even know how many boats head out every day, and they come back at 2 AM, 3 AM, 4 AM. We don’t have the staff to monitor all this,” she said. The Coastal security police and the Indian Coast Guard have a mandate to patrol the territorial and EEZ waters, respectively, for illegal fishing. Both, however, declined to give an official comment.
Climate Change Issues
Although Karnataka does not get impacted as much as other states, on average, 2–3 tropical cyclones make landfall in India each year, with about one being a severe tropical cyclone or greater. Although it only happens around once a year, these cyclones greatly impact the fisherman for years to come. For example, an estimated 3,21,495 man-days of fishers directly engaged in marine fishing activity were lost in Kerala due to cyclone Ockhi, and the maximum loss (30.5%; 97,871 man-days) was in Thiruvananthapuram district followed by Kollam (15%; 48,330 man-days).
Usually, cyclones mess up the fish ecosystem and destroy a lot of the infrastructure the fisherman need to do their jobs. To get new boats and containers, they usually go to local moneylenders but these people are extremely unjust and the fisherman ends up in a lot of debt.