After huge amounts of fish in Kerala were found to be laced with formalin, fishermen in the state have started to incur huge losses.

No formalin in our fish Kerala fisherfolk protest as discovery affects salesPictures: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Protest Tuesday, June 26, 2018 - 18:59

In the 31 years that she has been selling fish, 61-year-old Powlin never saw an incident that affected the sale of her fish to such an extent. She and her 70-year-old friend Elizabeth, along with other fisherfolk in coastal Thiruvananthapuram, have been suffering huge losses for the past few days, ever since formalin-laced fishes were seized from checkposts in the state.

“We saw something similar happen during the 2004 tsunami. People were reluctant to buy fish for months under the fear that the fish ate the bodies of the people who died in the tsunami,” Powlin says.

Nearly 6,000 kg of fish was seized at Walayar check post in Palakkad on Saturday after it was found to be laced with formalin, a carcinogenic substance. On Monday, 9,500 kg of fish was seized from Aryankav check post in Kollam. The fish have been sent to a lab for testing.

Formalin is often used to preserve fish, which is an easily perishable food whose value depends on its freshness.

Amal, a fish vendor at the Connemara market in the city, shares that she had to sell the fish at half the price. The fish vendors in the city, hailing from the coastal regions like Valiathura, Perumathura, Vizhinjam and Poonthura, buy fish from Vizhinjam, where the fishing boats are anchored. They assert that the fish they sell is not contaminated and no poisonous content is added in it to keep it fresh.

“Usually, we buy fish for Rs 50,000 for a day and the business is good. For the past two to three days, we have purchased only half of that, for Rs 25,000 only. Since there were only a few customers, we sold off the fish at half the price... how much longer can we continue like this?” Amal asks.

On Tuesday, the National Fishworkers Forum, along with the Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, organized a protest, attended by several fisherfolk, to insist that the fish being caught and sold in the state was safe.

The demand

Andrew Elias, the vice-president of the Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation, says that that this is a ‘do-or-die’ protest for them and a ‘false propaganda’ is being spread against them.

“The poultry lobby is behind the latest incident. What the government has done is that it used our demand to examine the vegetables, the fish and the poultry transporting from other states as a weapon to beat us. What has been done is that the fish imported from other states is examined at the check post and wide propaganda is spread that the entire fish being sold in the state is poisonous,” says Andrew.

He adds, “Even a section of media is part of the false propaganda. Through our protest, what we are trying to show is that the fish being sold by the traditional fishermen in the state are safe and healthy.”

General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum, T Peter, who is at the forefront of the fishermen agitations, says that the Health and the Fisheries Department should show the willpower to trust the produce sold by local fishermen and vendors.

“The poison is added in the fish being imported from Goa, Maharashtra, Thoothukudi, Vizag and Mangalore to keep the fish fresh since it takes three to four days for the fish to reach the state market. We demand that the government examine the imported fish at the check posts and  if the fish is not edible it should be sent back. If not, we will strengthen our protest and start selling fish in front of the Secretariat,” he warns.

An official told the media that the samples of the fish have been sent for an examination. The imported fish is reportedly used in big hotels.

Read: Formalin-laced fishes seized in Kerala: What you should know about the substance


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