In Kerala’s Munambam, adverse conditions push native fishermen to sell their boats

According to boat operators, scarcity of skilled labourers to work on the boats is one of the main factors that has led to the present situation.
In Kerala’s Munambam, adverse conditions push native fishermen to sell their boats
In Kerala’s Munambam, adverse conditions push native fishermen to sell their boats
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The fishing hamlet of Munambam, situated at the northern tip of Vypeen Island in Ernakulam district, recently came into the limelight after an alleged case of human trafficking was reported there. People, including women and children, were reported to be trafficked in a boat that was procured from a native of Munambam.

Talking to the fishing boat operators in the region reveals that there is a rising trend among boat owners to sell their fishing vessels due to consistent losses over the past few years.

According to the fishing boat operators, shortage of skilled labourers, low catch and harsh policies of the state fisheries department were the reasons behind increasing number of native fishers turning away from the field.

“Ernakulam district has the highest number of fishing boats in the state but over the last few years, a lot of people in the region have given up fishing since they cannot sustain a profitable life from this field,” said Steveson, a native of Munambam who owned a fishing vessel for over 50 years till he sold it a year back due to losses.

“I tried to manage the losses for quite a while before selling the boat, but I was not able to meet the expenses of the workers and the fuel charges with the money I was making,” he said. Steveson, who now owns an ice plant unit in Munambam, sold his boat for about Rs 40 lakh.  

According to Joby Joseph, a fish dealer at the Munambam fisheries harbour and a broker for fishing boats, another rising trend is of migrant workers purchasing boats sold by natives under a group partnership. “Nowadays we see migrant fishers buying the boats by dividing themselves into small groups so that there will be equal ownership,” Joby said.

Lack of skilled labour

According to fishing boat operators, scarcity of proper skilled labourers to work on the boats is one of the main factors that has led to the present situation.

Munambam is a fishing hamlet with most of the residents being fishers. But over the last 20 years, there has been a drastic shift in the fishing community’s population in the region. With more locals turning to other employment sectors, the fishing industry here saw an influx of large numbers of migrant fishers, mainly from the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.

“But in the last three years, there has been a shift in this population also. With the next generation of fishers from Tamil Nadu also moving out to seek jobs in other areas, there arose a gap in the number of skilled labourers for fishing. Presently, it is the migrant labourers from states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal who are working on all the fishing boats here,” said KB Kassim, a native of Munambam and treasurer of the All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association.

The issue with this was that these workers do not possess adequate fishing skills like the fishers from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which was another reason for the low catch, he added.

Stringent laws

The strict laws of the fisheries department are also a matter of concern, the fishing boat operators point out. “If we take the case of juvenile fishing, it is not possible to get a catch that is fully without juveniles. Taking this practical difficulty into account, the government had promised that it was only illegal when a catch had more than 40% juvenile fishes in it. But since this promise was only verbal and was not included in the Kerala Marine Fishing Regulation (KMFR) Act of 1980, it has not been fulfilled by the fisheries department officials,” said another fishing boat operator in Munambam.

There are also allegations that the department officials do not adhere to the norms to be followed after impounding a vessel. “As per the KMFR Act, the catch from an impounded fishing vessel should be auctioned at the fishing harbour itself. But the officers take away the boat to their office in Vypeen to conduct the auction,” he added.

However, when TNM contacted the fisheries department in the district, officials denied the allegations. “We only impound a vessel for juvenile fishing when there are more than 40% undersized fishes in the catch,” an official said. In the case of auctioning the catch in the impounded fishing boat, officials said that boats are first brought to the office premises as there are practical difficulties in auctioning at the harbour.

Hike in government fees

In September 2018, the government of Kerala issued a notification hiking the registration, licence fee and security fee for fishing boats. Boat operators were taken aback with the decision as there was already an increase in the fees in April the same year.

As per the new charges, a fishing boat measuring 25 meters and above should pay Rs 50,000 as the registration fee, which was earlier Rs 21,000. Fishing boats measuring 20 to 24.9 meters have to pay Rs 25,000 as registration fee, which was earlier Rs 10,500.

All pics by Neethu Joseph

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