Kerala has gone into a state of complete lockdown, enforcing major regulations from March 24 in order to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus. While certain relaxations for the steady supply of essential commodities have ensured that the state isn't brought to a standstill, the fishing sector in Kerala is hit hard as harbours in the state are being shut down. Fishers have termed the regulations ‘impractical’.
Four harbours in the state pulled down shutters on Tuesday, while others are to be shut down in the coming days.
Minister for Fisheries, J Mercykutty Amma, on Tuesday had rolled out regulations for the fisheries sector. One of the important directions issued was to stop auctioning procedures at harbours and instead, sell fish at a pre-set price, so that crowd during auctioning can be avoided. The harbours were asked to prepare the price based on the average cost of each fish over the last week.
Another direction was for boats not to unload catch to the harbour simultaneously as is done normally; instead, it has been directed that only two boats unload the catch at one time.
Calling these regulations 'impractical', fishing harbours of Munambam in Ernakulam district, Ponnani in Malappuram, Puthiyappa and Beypore in Kozhikode district, have shut down.
“There are many problems. The major problem is the delay. It is not possible for workers in the boats to wait for their turn for hours to unload the catch. All these workers in boats, who reach the harbour from sea by early morning, will be eager to somehow unload the catch, finish the auction and get back home. On regular days, this work will be over before noon. If, as per the regulation, they wait for their turn, even by evening they can’t leave from there. Moreover, the fish will get spoiled,” KB Kassim, member of the All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association told TNM.
He also added that the delay in completing the sale of fish in harbours will also drastically affect small scale traders. “By the time the small scale vendors buy fish from harbours and begin sale, it will be around evening, after which no one will be allowed to operate shops. So what is the point of this regulation? That is why we have decided to shut down harbours, it is a waste of time otherwise,” said Kassim.
As per the general lockdown order in Kerala, shops selling essential commodities including food items, can only function from 7 am to 5 pm in the state, except Kasaragod. For Kasaragod district, where the regulations are more stringent, shops can only function from 11 am to 5 pm.
Speaking to TNM, Minister of Fisheries J Mercykutty Amma said that the timing, from 7 am to 5 pm, will be applicable to all the fish markets and street-side fish vendors too in Kerala.
“Some fish markets function only in the evening hours, they have to change their timings according to the regulation. Even the street-side fish vendors should abide by this. There will be no change or concessions in the regulations put forth by the government,” Mercykutty Amma told TNM.
The Minister added that the government cannot force the harbours to operate.
“The government has not banned the functioning of harbours, nor have we stopped fishers from going to the sea. The regulations are put in place in order to avoid crowding. They can abide by the rules and function, there are no problems with that. What is more important for the government is the safety of the people,” the Minister said.
Meanwhile, fishing boat operators opined that most of the workers, who are primarily from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, have already left the state over the COVID-19 scare. With harbours being shut and the majority of the fishing boat operators deciding not to venture into the sea, the state is like to witness a seafood crisis in the coming days.