Thursday January 20, 2022

Fishing sector sinking as high cost, low catch weigh

December 02, 2021

HYDERABAD: Fuel cost hike has hit fishing sector like a torpedo, mainly marine, which is sinking under the weight of high cost of doing business, putting the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen families at stake, The News has learnt.

Senior fishermen said at least 75 percent of their income was being spent on fuel, while only 25 percent being divided among partners -owners and crews- as per agreement.

According to them, for example, a large boat goes to the sea and spends around 45 days in the deep water and the owner of the boat invests up to Rs4.6 million on fuel, ration, and everything required during the period.

“If the catch they bring home values only Rs5 million, then after cutting the cost of fuel and food, crew members may get only Rs4,000/person for working 45 days,” they said, questioning: how could they live a sustainable life in this situation?

Apart from this, they said the catch had already declined in the marine waters due to weather phenomenon, while cost of operating boats and feeding crew had increased beyond their reach.

Majeed Motani, a veteran captain and owner of a boat however tied it to the fish stock in the sea.

“If boats have more catch they may return back timely without using more fuel. But if they have to stay for more days in the water they need more fuel and ration and in return income may turn low,” Motani said.

He fears the poor fishermen may be compelled to go out of this important fishing industry, sooner or later. “Only huge factory trawlers may continue catching fish to keep this industry alive,” Motani said.

If this situation continues the majority of the workforce associated with this mega fish industry may not sustain for a long time. The other reason is that in the winter cold fish usually go to the bottom and boats float on surface water, waiting for their luck.

There are around four categories of fishing boats in terms of size, capacity of carrying load, and capability of using a variety of nets.

One category of boats require fuel and ration valuing Rs40,000-60,000, depending on its stay in the sea. Mostly boats stay in the seawater for three-four days for a catch. It carries a crew of 8-12 members for a trip. In case they have a catch of Rs100,000-Rs200,000 or above they may get a reasonable share. However, given the situation it has become rare for fishermen to catch more fish and get higher wages. Fishermen call it a bonus.

Another category, using different nets, including wire nets, have a capacity to carry 20,000-30,000 kg fish in a single trip. These boats use nets near creeks where there is more fish stock.

Akhtar Shaikh, a local fisherman and trader, said 30-35 years ago these boat crews used to take little fuel and ration, as per requirement because they have to return back timely with heavy catch, and they were paid well; however, now they preferred to take more fuel and ration because there was not surety about the catch and duration of their stay.

“Earlier, they never thought about this loss, but presently, uncertainty is looming large owing to increasing cost and decreasing catch,” he said.

Small boats with the size of 12-14 feet, carry two persons and require Rs1,000-1,500 for fuel and food. They usually earn Rs3000-6000 through catch in the normal season. In case of heavy catch they get Rs10,000—15,000 each, depending on catch.

Recently a small boat went to sea for a two-day trip with fuel and food worth Rs25,000. The food and fuel expenses exceeded the value of catch. They went home empty-handed despite their backbreaking labaours at sea.

The boat crews usually move to the sea in the evening and wait for the whole night after casting their nets. They collect the catch in the morning and return back but in case of little fish they have to stay longer to manage the cost of trip.

Many traders have invested in this sector by buying boats and hiring local crews for fishing. Last year, the restriction and prolonged lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic brought the entire fishing industry to standstill for a long time and crews, depending solely on fishing, had no way to feed their families.

Now the investors are also fearing losses in this business and selling their boats, leaving fishermen in lurch.

Despite this there is no relief by the government for fishermen to save the traditional fishing business. The fishermen relying solely on fishing are facing a crisis-like situation.