How Dakshina Kannada’s fisherfolk coped with the lockdown

How Dakshina Kannada’s fisherfolk coped with the lockdown

How Dakshina Kannada’s fisherfolk coped with the lockdown

While fishers in the region were compelled to bypass the market systems and directly reach consumers, they also discovered new avenues of cooperation.  

Mangaluru: Jayanti Karkera has a designated spot in the Urva market of Mangalore but during the lockdown, it mostly lay empty. She and many others of her ilk were more likely to be found at the street corners in residential areas, far removed from their ‘comfort zone’ trying to take their product directly to consumers. “We have a well-developed market system, but the stress on the system is so much that we were constrained to break away from it. With customers finding it hard to come to the market, it had become extremely competitive,” she said. 

“If we weren't able to sell in the three hours that the market was open, we were constrained to give them up at throwaway prices. We also had to battle the short shelf life of our catch. We are day sellers and do not have storage facilities. Of course, we have iceboxes but because many ice factories were closed and we were not able to get ice as and when we wanted to,” said Dayanand Bangera, a boat owner in Malpe in Udupi. 

The community had appealed to the Mangalore City Corporation and to the Police authorities to allow these makeshift fish vending places to operate until the lockdown was relaxed. Similar appeals were made in Udupi, Kundapur, Bhatkal, Honnavar, Kumta, and Karwar and the authorities had by and large consented. 

During normal times this would not have been allowed. “There are 612 designated markets in the three districts with over 14,000 people vendors, suppliers and cleaners working there, but during the pandemic, the number of fishers using the official markets had halved. This was due to the time factor, there was only a three-hour window to bring the catch to the market, sell it and get back to the safety of their homes. This disrupted the market operations,” said Nithin Kumar, Chairman of the Karnataka Fisheries Development Corporation (KFDC). 

Karnataka Fish Marketing Federation’s president, Yashpal Suvarna, pointed out, “Since the input cost of fishing expeditions had gone up by 30 per cent due to the escalation of fuel (diesel) prices, many boat owners had suspended operations. Deep-sea expeditions that used to cost Rs 3-4 lakhs in total, had started costing Rs 5 lakhs for fuel alone. Other costs like ice, crew salaries, landing charges, insurance, maintenance of vessel and nets and other machinery would jack up the cost to Rs 7 lakh per trip. But the cost at the consumer end remained the same and this is where the marketing became tough. Fisherfolk had to work on wafer-thin returns.” 

Deep down, in the fishing villages, circumstances were changing drastically. In Meenakaliya village in Baikampady in Mangalore, Sudhakar Salian (50) had owned his own boat until February 2020 when the pandemic struck. Now he and his son, Rajiv, work as labourers in his cousin’s boat. “All the labourers I had in my boat were Tamilians. When the pandemic started, many of them left, and it was not possible to get local labour to work on my boat. I couldn’t allow the boat to remain idle either because I had bank loans, insurance and tax. I was reduced from a boat owner to a labourer in less than one year,” he said. 

Fish on wheels: Fishers had taken to selling their catch out of trucks in various neighbourhoods in Mangaluru (Picture credit: M Raghuram)

Padukere, near Udupi, which is the busiest fishing village near the Malpe fishing port, had gone quiet. “This port is one of the three big fishing ports on the West Coast, with over 780 mechanised boats operating from it. Nearly 1.2 lakh fishermen work from here. Thanks to the government’s structured lockdown, we were at least able to move our catch from Malpe to the more interior places of the district, as well as neighbouring Chikkamagaluru and Shivamogga districts, which is the only silver lining during the pandemic,” according to a fisher in Padukere. 

However, the fisherfolk in Uttara Kannada district adapted better, according to Karnataka fisheries department officials. The number of mechanised boats is fewer here than in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi; the boats here, called the Naadadoni, are 10- metre-long open boats used for coastline fishing. Besides, the coastline here is abutted with towns and villages that have high volumes of consumers. But areas further up the ghat, like Sirsi, Joida, Siddapur, remained difficult to reach due to movement restrictions, said Prakash Tandel, a fisher from Karwar.

And on a positive note, fisher organisations across state lines were able to come together to ensure that the commercial value of their catch didn't crash. The Akhila Maharashtra Machimaar Kruti Samithi, Akhila Karnataka Meenugarara Kriya Samithi and their counterparts in Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat jointly appealed to the respective state governments to keep the trunk route open for the movement of fishery products, especially those bound for value addition and export. All the five states had coordinated their efforts to ensure smooth and seamless movement of catch on the interstate highways and national highways.

Olencio Simeos, General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Federation (NFF) in Goa, told 101Reporters, "Though there was immense time pressure in transporting and storing the catch during the lockdown we were able to minimise wastage, mainly because the value addition companies and exporters stood beside us in support. They kept the transport and factories running and process chain functioning, which has helped us a lot"

"This has resulted in a new understanding between the five states in managing the fisheries catch in their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The pandemic, in fact, has given us insights into the things that can be worked out mutually in the interest of fisheries as a whole," said Kiran Koli, General Secretary of the Kruti Samiti.


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