'Kai-rampani' fishermen or traditional shore seine fishermen at Hejamady in Udupi were surprised to find that they could not pull their nets back onto the shore on Wednesday evening. The technique of fishing, which is indigenous and labour intensive, has fallen out of favour in recent times in the coastal region of Karnataka but on Wednesday, these traditional fishermen could not believe their luck. "There was a huge crowd which gathered in Hejamady because the fishermen had chanced upon a haul of fish that was so large, they could not reel it in," explains Yathish Baikampady, a fisherman in the area.
'Kai-rampani' fishing is a labour-intensive operation involving over 30 fishermen pulling nets from the shore with their hands while a boat with its crew encircle the fishes at sea with nets. The haul of fish caught by the traditional fishermen on Wednesday coincides with 'Palke Booruni', a day which marks the end of the turbulent monsoon season and the resumption of fishing in the seas. "The quantity of fish that was caught by the fishermen was so large that it could not be stored. Whenever this happens, the fishermen call all the residents of the village to the shore and tell them to take the fish to prepare food at home," says Yathish.
'Kai-rampani' fishing in Udupi often involves 30-40 people pulling nets from the shore
Residents of nearby Mulki, Yermal and Palimar rushed to the beach in Hejamady after word of the mammoth haul of fish spread through the coastal areas of the district. The haul of fish was mostly Bolanjir or silver fish. However, the price of the fish, which is usually at least Rs 100 per kg, fell to as low as Rs 20-25 per kg on Wednesday. Many local residents also collected the fish for free from the beach in Hejamady.
A total of six seine nets were spread out in the sea to reel the fishes in and the fishermen continued to work until midnight before abandoning their efforts for the day. "There were more nets that we have to pull. It was exhausting to pull these nets so it will only be done later," adds Yathish who further added that the haul of fish caught on Wednesday was over 5 tonnes and would fetch around Rs 10 lakh.
Residents of Hejamady remember that this phenomenon used to occur regularly around forty years ago but with the rise of mechanised fishing, traditional fishermen in the region have not seen a haul like this in years.
A year ago, a large haul of Boothai fish (sardines) was caught by the traditional fishermen in Hejamady but they are quick to add it was nowhere near what was caught this week.
"In recent years, a haul like this would be caught by bull-trawlers and purse seine boats which venture out into the sea. But this year, due to the ban on bull-trawling, the fishes have accumulated in good number and the traditional fishermen have managed to catch it in their nets," observes Harish, a resident of Mulki.
The fishing community in Udupi decided to discontinue bull trawling earlier this year in a bid to encourage traditional fishermen and protect the depleting resources of fish in the coastal region.
It appears the move has already paid dividends. "But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. This will happen one day at the start of the season and then it will go back to the usual catch found," says Harish.