For Better or Worse? The Changing Face of the Fisheries Industry

Traditional fishing boats catch not only fish but also fish eggs as they fish near the shore during the fishing ban period, which is the breeding period for the fish. This has led to a decrease in the size of the fishes. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

Traditional fishing boats catch not only fish but also fish eggs as they fish near the shore during the fishing ban period, which is the breeding period for the fish. This has led to a decrease in the size of the fishes. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

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.

Purse nets are used rampantly by the fishermen here. Since it can capture a large number of fish, many fish die in these nets. Use of these nets has no regulation. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

Purse nets are used rampantly by the fishermen here. Since it can capture a large number of fish, many fish die in these nets. Use of these nets has no regulation. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

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.

Besides over fishing, what also thretans the fish population in the Ratnagiri coastal area is their reduced size. Photo credit - Jyothi Sriram

Besides over fishing, what also thretans the fish population in the Ratnagiri coastal area is their reduced size. Photo credit – Jyothi Sriram

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.

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Prospective Growth in Fisheries

The fisheries industry faces a shortage of manpower. Besides this, it also lacks innovative technology such as better equipped boats and modern nets. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

The fisheries industry faces a shortage of manpower. Besides this, it also lacks innovative technology such as better equipped boats and modern nets. Photo credit: Jyothi Sriram

By Priya Prasad

RATNAGIRI: As the fisheries’ contribution to the country’s GDP has grown to 1.1 per cent, it has thrown open doors not only for many aspiring job seekers but has also attracted graduates to seek training in what is seen as a profitable and prosperous career.

Swapna Mohite, researcher and teacher at College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri says that research in fisheries is a very lucrative field. “We can say fisheries education began in the 70s, but the field is still young. There is so much to do, so many species to discover,” she adds.

Mahendra Jadhav, an Assistant Fisheries Development Officer at Ratnagiri says that when he decided to enter the fisheries line, the scope was tremendous. “One could enter the medical or veterinary fields but fisheries had greater scope, people were few. Fisheries Development Officer, District Development Officer, Fisheries Curator, Fisheries Commissioner, these were some of the posts available then. A few of my batch mates have become agricultural research scientists. There is considerable scope for the future,” says Jadhav.

The degree course at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri provides students with the option for self-employment. However, students are not prepared to take up the hard work involved in setting up a venture. “Students’ expectations have increased. It [a job in fisheries] is not like a 9 to 5 job where you work and earn a salary. In a processing company, you have to work 12 hours or sometimes even 24 hours. If you have a fish farm, you have to be on your farm throughout the culture period because you are dealing with live specimens. If even a single parameter goes wrong, the entire culture can collapse,” adds Mohite.

However, she says that students working abroad in processing industries and fish farms are optimistic about their career prospects. This holds true not only abroad but locally as well.

A third year student at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri, Uday Gavidh wants to start his own business, “I want to get into the brackish water aquaculture business. I have already started one [a culture farm] in Dahanu (near Mumbai) and I want to open another one this June. There is a particular species of shrimp that grows the fastest; it has a five month culture period. I would like to sell this in the Bombay market.”

However, despite such scope and growth, the field is not receiving the development it requires. “The boats that catch fish face many problems—they do not receive ice on time, they don’t get diesel. If they do get diesel, they do not get any subsidies, if they do get subsidies, then they don’t get enough diesel, so they will incur a loss. The fisheries societies need manpower, modern nets and vessels. They need these things to start something new and the government needs to provide this,” says Jadhav.

Another problem, says Jadhav, is that the wrong people hold positions in fisheries, “Earlier, BSc Zoology degree holders would occupy vacancies as fisheries development officers and assistants. In Zoology, they teach only one subject of fisheries which has one credit. If they [the government] are giving degrees to BFSc students but taking money from BSc students and then giving them preference, what is the need for a fisheries degree?”
Jadhav says that students from the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri discussed this issue with ministers from the Nagpur assembly demanding that only BFSc students be given preference for jobs.

This move proved effective. “In 2007, there were 14 positions but there was a stay [order] and after that there were no positions at all. So, now in 2014, after 7 years, 14 positions for the Assistant Fisheries Development Officer have opened up. The students’ efforts have borne fruit,” says Jadhav

While prospects for employment and opportunities for quality education are available a plenty for those with the means and access to the services, the fisheries industries also employs a large number of manual and migrant labourers. Akash Salunke, student at the College of Fisheries, Ratnagiri, says, “There is scope for degree holders to get government jobs, but those who do not have degrees, such as manual labourers, do not have the opportunity to improve their earnings. This is the biggest problem.”