TN fishermen say govt guidelines will cause them losses

COVID-19 National

Fear that village committees might fix low prices for their catch

By Adilin Beatrice C

Fishermen in Tamil Nadu are unhappy about the guidelines issued by the state fisheries department which allow them to go for fishing amid the Covid-19 situation. They are worried that village committees appointed to fix prices of their capture would set low prices, causing them losses.

 Anthony Pichai, who owns a country boat and fishes in the Ramanathapuram area, disagreed with the idea of having a committee to fix the price and sell the catch in lots. “The Ramanathapuram district collectorate held a meeting with fishermen of the district and told them about the guidelines and the system that should be followed … during the lockdown. Most of us walked out in disagreement as the guidelines won’t suit the pattern of our work. Many objected to the idea of village committees deciding the prices of the fish and buying it themselves rather than giving it for auction. By doing this, the government might impel us to face loss,” he said.

 The local administration has asked small fishermen to put up stalls near the sea and sell their catch. “The crisis management committee allotting 50% fishermen a day to go fishing won’t suit us. Everyone is starving and is looking for a way to earn money. Once they allow us, no one will follow the rule and everyone will start going into the sea for fishing,” Pichai added.

 David Ramesh, a fisherman for the past 30 years, said he finds the idea weird and complained that the system won’t work properly. “So far, there was no committee assigned in our village to buy fish in whole lots. We take the fish that we catch to the nearby villages and sell in the houses we know. This is already bringing us loss. Right now, I’m selling the fish I catch for half the actual price.”

He added: “If they are careless…, then things can go wrong. Fishermen go fishing as a crew. There are chances of spreading coronavirus if any one of them is already infected.” 

Aashiq M, a fish trader from Salem, said it is not only fishermen who are incurring losses. “If the government invades the business of fishing and forms committees to take all the fish that fishermen catch, then our role in the process dies. We are already having a bad month with transport being stopped. This will worsen the situation.”

The Tamil Nadu fisheries department announced that traditional fishing boats and motorized fishing boats with less than 10 HP outboard motor or the inboard motor will be allowed for fishing.

Some of the department’s other instructions are: crew members who go for fishing should be from the same family; only 50% of the boats are allowed for fishing per day; a crisis management committee allotted by the government will decide who will go fishing every day; the village committee will fix the price for the catch, hand it over directly to the agents and settle the price to the fishermen.

According to a report, the fisheries department stated that restoration of traditional fishing is aimed at ensuring the supply of the important source of nutritious protein-rich food to the public during the lockdown period. 

 GS Sameeran, fisheries director of Tamil Nadu, said: “There are 40,000 mechanized and 8,000 non-mechanised craft that will be allowed for fishing during the remaining lockdown period. This will directly provide employment to two lakh fishermen and an equal number of persons in the indirectly dependent sectors.”

Sajjan Raj Mehta, a trade activist, said: “The ban on transport services has already hit fishermen hard. Most small fishermen get minimum salary and feed their families with that. They usually auction their fish and get profit from it. By setting up committees that will fix the rate, the government is forcing the fishermen to sell the fish at whatever rate the committee finalizes. It will be better if the committee has a discussion on the price with the fishermen before finalizing it.” 

Every year, fishermen on the east coast follow a 61-day ban in April and May to protect aquatic life. This year, they stopped fishing early due to the pandemic.

Image Courtesy: Christi M


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