Fish availability in the state has been almost negligible ever since the COVID-19 lockdown began in the state. Fishermen remained off sea, and have neither been catching nor selling fish as it may draw huge gatherings. But in the absence of these regular fishermen, new faces selling fish on the roadside have become a common sight in many places. Trucks carrying fish were also seen on the roads.
However, there were soon complaints that fish mixed with formalin and decayed fish were being sold in the state, following which the state Food Safety Department and the Health Department decided to revive 'Operation Sagar Rani', a 2018 campaign against the mixing of chemical substances in fish.
For instance, on Sunday, the police seized more than 2,200 kilograms of decayed fish from Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala. These were brought from Thengapattinam of Tamil Nadu to be sold in Kerala. A month-old shark and other fish infested with maggots were seized from trucks during a vehicle check. Another 1,200 kilograms of fish were seized from Alappuzha district on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Aluva of Ernakulam district, a pregnant cat died allegedly after eating an adulterated fish. Shajir, a resident of Aluva, claimed that he bought the fish from the market and gave it to his cat. According to him, the cat started shivering and died 45 minutes later. He alleged that fish had some poison in it.
Fishermen in limbo
On April 4, the state Fisheries Department allowed the traditional fishermen to return to fishing while following certain regulations. However, many were reluctant to venture into the sea as bidding is not allowed, crowds are not allowed in harbours or markets, and ice plants are not operational. Only a few small boats with two or three fishermen in one boat ventured out.
Fishermen also fear that there are risks of spread of coronavirus if fishing continues, even though precautions are taken. "Even before the restrictions were put in place, we had decided not to go fishing until March 31. Though the Fisheries Minister declared that traditional fishermen are allowed to go fishing in small boats, we found that too risky. Besides, if we can catch more fish, it can also attract a huge crowd, which is not allowed at the time of social distancing,â€ť said Charles George, president of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi (TUCI).
TUCI approached the Chief Minister with a petition, demanding that traditional fishermen be provided with at least Rs 5,000 a month as relief aid.
In its letter to J Mercykutty Amma, the Fisheries Minister, the National Fishworkersâ€™ Forum (NFF) pointed out that the community was totally forgotten at the time of lockdown.
"The small-scale fish workers across are yet to receive financial assistance. Similarly, fish workers and daily wage labourers in the motorised and mechanised sectors are yet to receive support, and many of them are stranded at sea, or in harbours in cramped conditions. Small and traditional boat owners are yet to receive notifications regarding a financial aid package to cover the losses on account of the lockdown," read the letter from NFF, a federation of state-level small and traditional fish workersâ€™ unions of India.