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Fishers try to stay afloat amid lockdown

Fishers try to stay afloat amid lockdown

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Tuesday, 14 April 2020 13:11


INDIA: Fishing and the entire supply chain associated

with it has been impacted by the ongoing 21-day lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.

The fisheries sector contributes to over one percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product and directly supports the livelihood of about 16 million people.

Though the government announced a relief package for various sectors of the economy that are impacted due to the lockdown, the fisheries sector has not got any government relief so far.

Nilesh Nakhawa was out in the sea in his purse seiner for eight days. On March 23, the 41-year-old fisherman landed at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, in the western state of Maharashtra, at 8 a.m. with a seven-tonne haul of fish, mostly mackerel that nobody wanted. “Every single place was shut,” he said. “The traders were not there, the exporters had shut shop, no ice available, the labourers had left. Ekdum sannata tha harbour pe,” (there was complete silence at the harbour), he said.

He did eventually manage to sell off his stock but at almost half the usual price. “Usually mackerel is Rs. 70 per kilogram. I sold it to different people at Rs. 38 per kilogram.”

Many fishermen were not as lucky. Ever since the central government announced a day-long curfew on March 22, followed by a 21-day lockdown, starting March 25, to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), social media and news sites are streaming with first-hand accounts of fishermen across the west coast of India throwing away their fresh fish catch. In the absence of ice, there can be no storage. In the absence of exporters and traders, there can be no selling. In the absence of fish workers, tasks such as loading and unloading of fish, transport of stock and ice and other jobs that are labour intensive and integral, cannot be performed. The fisherfolk who had just returned from the sea did not know what to do with their stock, so they threw it away or sold it at meagre prices.

Fishermen across the economic spectrum – from the large scale mechanised fleets to the small scale fishers across the coastline have suffered an economic blow due to the lockdown. Keeping in mind that marine capture fisheries is already a stressed sector, the loss of fish has created a dent in the economy and food security for a number of people.

The share of the fisheries sector in India’s Gross Domestic Product is about 1.03 percent as of 2017-18 and it contributed Rs. 1.75 trillion (Rs 1,75,573 crore) during 2017-18. It accounts for about 6.58 percent share of agricultural GDP of India. According to the government’s own estimates, the sector provides livelihoods to about 16 million fishers and fish farmers at the primary level and almost twice the number along the value chain.

“This season has already been very poor,” said Sunil Mohamed, principal scientist & head of Molluscan Fisheries Division at Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute in Kochi. “Fishermen have been complaining right from January that the catch is poor, especially in the south-west. So this lockdown has a double effect – they are already suffering from the lack of catch, and they can’t go fishing during the peak season of a stressed time. Biologically, it is good for the conservation of species, but only biologically. All fishermen, small scale and large scale are suffering. It is a loss of income for them,” he said.



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