By Priya Prasad
RATNAGIRI: Once a traditional industry, fisheries in Ratnagiri has seen tremendous growth over the years. “From the 1960s onwards, technology entered the field. We started mechanisation of boats, trawling and the fishermen began using different types of fishing methods,” says Swapna Mohite, researcher and professor at College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri. This was the boom period for fisheries, she says, and with this, the number of boats and people entering the industry increased exponentially. “I have been in this field for 25 years so I have seen the industry change from being very primitive to becoming a very technology oriented industry now,” she adds.
The availability of technology such as GPS, sonar fish finding equipment and radio navigation has made it easy for fishermen to catch fish. This, though, leads to a dwindling of the fish population. The effect of this is felt by the fishermen. Bilaval Pisal, Vice Chairman of the Bhagavati Fisheries Society says that the fishing business is on the decline, “We keep our boats on the shore for 15 to 20 days because we do not get any catch. We do not earn enough for a day.” The fishermen incur a loss of Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per day whenever they stop fishing for that time period.
Pisal says this happens for a number of reasons—over fishing, cyclones, use of purse nets as well as speed boats from neighbouring states. “Speed boats from Goa and Karnataka fish in our waters. They have good capacity so they catch more fish,” he adds. These boats are allowed to fish in the deep sea, but it is illegal for them to fish near shore which they often do. This occurs despite taking them to court and a fine. “Although the matter is closed, it will happen again and again,” says Pisal.
However, besides these reasons, the fishermen themselves are unaware of how their fishing practices contribute to the depletion of fish species. “Traditional boats are allowed to fish in shore during the fishing ban period, which is also the fish breeding season. Most fishes lay their eggs near the shore because the area is rich in food. Since these smaller boats or traditional boats fish in that area, they catch the eggs which are about to spawn or breed,” says Mohite. Moreover, these fish eggs have a high demand in the market. As there are no new “recruits” for the next season, the number of fish reduces. “Besides this, smaller sized fishes are being caught. Consequently, they do not reach the age of maturity. If these two trends continue, the fish stock will be depleted,” she adds.
The smaller fishermen do not have the financial support to adopt technological innovations, and additionally, they are not ready to take up alternative methods such as culturing clams or green mussels, which are available abundantly in the Ratnagiri coastal area. “This kind of culture does not require large capital investment or 24×7 care. They [the traditional fishermen] can supplement their income by using these alternatives,” states Mohite.
Besides fishing practices, another issue the fishing community faces is lack of government support. It is a common complaint among fishermen that the sugar mill industry receives more attention from the government. “Whenever we face a loss, the government does not give us any aid or grants. They [the government] can give Rs 6, 000 to Rs 7,000 crores without interest to the sugar mills, but we fishermen get no help,” says Pisal. He further adds that about only 10% to 15% of fishermen manage to run the fisheries business with reasonable returns, the rest remain poor.
There is a considerable portion of the fisher folk population that falls under the below the poverty line category, but not much of the government services and schemes trickles down to them. “We [fisheries cooperative] register BPL families either at the Ratnagiri Municipal Corporation or at the district collector’s office. But these families do not get their dues. The schemes do not reach everyone. The corporation and collector’s offices constantly pass the buck between themselves,” says Pisal.
Mohite says the Konkan coast is rich in biodiversity and it is not fully studied. Furthermore, she adds that the aquatic ecosystem is very sensitive and every organism is interdependent from sea weeds, corals and other organisms. “If you take out one organism from that system, the entire food chain will collapse. If you want to nourish or develop this ecosystem, you have to think from the “bottom,” not just a particular fish,” she says.