THE LIVILIHOOD STRUGGLES OF ARTISANAL FISHERFOLK OF KERALA

Russel Ignatius Beero. L.

Abstract: In this article an attempt is made to study the peculiarities of artisanal fisher folk of Kerala and their livelihood issues, in the changing scenario of modernization of fishery sectors with the introduction of trawling and other artificial methods of fishing which endanger their very ethos and livelihood possibilities. We travel through their rough tides of struggles to protect their livelihood and suggesting serene possible solutions. Introduction Kerala, God’s own country, has a coastal line of 590 km. length which is less than 10% of the country's total coastal line. Fishing is the mainstay of about 3.6% of the State's population. More than 9.29 lakhs fishermen comprising 7.20 lakhs (77.50%) in marine and 2.09 lakhs (22.50%) in inland sector are engaged in fishing. Its water front contributes to about 25% of the country's fish catch, providing a livelihood to the State's fishing community. The fish-able area in Kerala consists of the continental shelf within 200m. depth range, spread over 39 lakh hectares and the inland water areas suitable for promotion of culture fisheries spread over 3.61 lakh hectares. The total fish production in Kerala during 1988-89 is estimated to be 3.87 lakh tonnes, including 0.289 lakh tonnes of inland fishes. In the early 1960s, artisanal fishers numbered about 85,000; by the 1980s that figure was over 106,000 but by then there were also 17,500 workers in the mechanised fisheries sector, the artisanal fishers had some 34,000 craft and produced over 60% of the marine catch while there were 3,000 mechanised boats in the 'modern' sector. The Artisanal Fisher folk Artisanal fishery is but a general term for fishing techniques that are far from homogeneous. The design of the craft used along the coastline varies, being closely adapted to the physical geography of the coast and the habits of the fish. It ranges from the large and costly dug-out or plank-built canoe to the rudimentary catamaran that consists of just five logs of wood tied together. The size, shape and material of nets used by these boats show an even greater degree of variation. Among these artisanal fishers an important accumulation of skill and knowledge of local conditions was preserved. The fishers handled the marine environment with courage and resourcefulness. The greatest asset of the fishermen of Kerala is their accumulated knowledge about fish, fish habits, waves, currents and stars which they have, through generations of learning by doing, handed down from generation to generation. The artisanal marine fishers are Hindu and Muslim in the northern and central coastal villages and Latin Catholic in the southern coastal districts. Christians comprise 37% of the fisher population of the state, Muslims 30% and Hindus 27%.

Since ancient times, people inhabiting the coastal belt have fished using primitive gear and vessels, mostly improvised. Over time, the gear and vessels acquired a certain level of sophistication through innovations of the fishermen as well as by introduction of foreign techniques introduced predominantly by missionaries. However, until recently fishing gear and vessels continued to be constructed locally, mostly of local materials, and fishing was done by hand. Fishing was restricted to a few nautical miles from shore, and the majority of fishing was for subsistence. There are only a few harbours, and port facilities are very limited. Most of the artisanal fishing vessels land directly on the beach without benefit of port facilities. The sea historically abounded with fish and prawns, and fishermen were well off except during the monsoon months of June, July, and August, when seas were stormy. Most of the catch was marketed fresh to a few local markets, and some of the catch was preserved by drying and saltcuring in the absence of preservatives and of rapid transport. Fishing craft and gear were mostly owned by the fishermen, who worked either alone or in family groups. The fishing community used to be the only group in this State engaged in fishing from time immemorial. They caught fish for their own use as well as for catering to the needs of the society. They were depending on the traditional technology of fishing and hence the fishing was limited to the near-shore waters. Because of less catch their earning was limited. This made the life of this community very miserable. Socially and economically they remained backward in the society. Their literacy level was also very low. Most of them lived in small huts, which very often got destroyed in heavy rain and sea erosion. In fact these people were depending on the sea for everything. If the sea is kind enough they flourish, otherwise they perish. Modernization of Kerala fisheries Modernisation came with independent India's first Five Year Plan - the 'Indo-Norwegian Project' (INP) which commenced in three Quilon villages in 1952. Mechanization of fishing vessels and use of synthetic gear materials brought in drastic changes in the coastal area. With the help of Norway, mechanized trawlers were introduced in Kerala waters and by sixties this mechanized fishing started developing in an industrial footing. Though the mechanization was first started aiming at the development of the conditions of fishermen, it attracted the business group to fishing because the catch from the trawlers consisting mainly the shrimp variety which was gaining market demand throughout the world. Initially this mechanisation was in the form of motors for traditional craft, but this proved unsatisfactory to the Norwegians in the Kerala case and the INP development programs switched to European-type boats, with in-board motors. Those who had access to capital from fish trading or broking, or who were linked to other capital resources, were those who became owners and who stood to reap the profits of the new enterprises. The fishing industry became increasingly polarised between a modern sector able to make considerable profits from exports and a traditional sector confined to a domestic market with declining catches and fish stock. In the 1980s the increasing industrialisation - and internationalisation - of the fisheries by mechanisation and by trawling by still larger vessels, both by Indian companies and by trawlers of other nations heightened this polarisation and posed dangers which threatened to do serious damage to the both the fisheries and the artisanal

fishers. The effects were already clear by the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fishers found themselves physically endangered as trawlers worked too close in-shore. Income levels began to reflect the disadvantaged position of the artisanal fishers.

Impacts of Trawling
Till the introduction of trawlers, fishing was done by those belonging to fishermen community. But because of their economic backwardness, they could not compete with the rich industrialists who started investing in this new area. Thus the mechanization did not solve the socio-economic problems of fishing community, though it was aimed at that. The fishing intensity by the trawlers affected the fish stocks in the inshore waters which eventually led to an overall decline in fish landings of the State. Growing conflicts could be seen among the mechanized and traditional fishermen during late seventies and there existed severe competition between them for fishing time, space and resources. Traditional fishermen were of the view that the depletion in the landing was caused by the operation of trawl net, purse seine and ring seine. They demanded a total ban of these types of destructive gears at least during the monsoon period, which coincides with the spawning of many species of fishes and shrimps. The boat owners and the workers were fully against this view. These contradictions between the two groups led even to clashes and very often created law and order problems in the Kerala coasts.

The livelihood struggles
We can explain the struggle of artisanal fisher folk against trawling as falling into three important phases. Firstly a formative period in the 1960s and 1970s when the fishers' organisations - at a district, state and national level - were being formed. This was a period which was to have important implications for leadership and direction in the Kerala movements because of the close connection between these movements and the Roman Catholic Church. The second period was the period of agitation and struggle in the 1980s and into the 1990s as the fishers brought pressure on successive Kerala governments - and, on occasion, on the central government - to address their concerns. In these campaigns they particularly targeted the impact which mechanised fishing made both on their livelihoods and on fish resources. It was a period in which they experienced great difficulty in combating vested interests in the state and in getting an adequate response from the coalition governments which were a feature of Kerala politics throughout the period. The last period comes in the 1990s when the issues which the Kerala fishers had been fighting for increasingly become national issues. In this third period the national-level organisation formed in the 1970s, an organisation in which Kerala fishers and their supporters are leaders, has come to play an increasingly militant role on fisheries' policy, to the extent that the Government of India has been forced to consider how to meet the political opposition and how to protect fish resources.

Attempts to protect livelihood:
Realising the importance of conservation of the fishery resources and also for sustainable development and management of the fishery along the coast the Government of Kerala enacted the Kerala Marine Fisheries Regulation Act (1980). This Act empowers the State Government to restrict or prohibit: * Fishing within a specified area in the territorial waters of the sea using specified craft and gear, * The number of fishing vessels which may be used for fishing in any specified area in the territorial waters, * The catching of such species of fish and for such periods in any specified area, * Fishing by unlicensed vessels and * Registration and licensing of fishing vessels and cancellation, suspension and amendment of license already issued. Many committees were appointed to study the effects of the situation and to make longstanding solutions to the problems faced by the fishermen. Dr. Nair's committee was to make an in depth study of the past trends in the species-wise landings of fish in comparison with the resource estimates in order to find out whether the intensity and methods of fishing presently adopted have adversely affected the stock position of any of the species in any specified area or the decline in catches is due to fluctuations in the seasonal factors including the impact of the severe drought in the State in the past few years. Also the committee was to review the steps taken by the Government so far based on the recommendations of previous committees appointed to study the fisheries related issues. This Committee recommended a total ban on trawling by all types of vessels in the territorial waters of Kerala during the months of June, July and August and also to study the impact of this ban on the fishery resources. As a result 43 days ban was imposed on trawling during the monsoon period. But, the recommendation to study the impact of this ban was not taken up. Hence again problems persisted in the coastal area. However, ban continued with varying periods from 1988 onwards. National-level-Regulations Meanwhile, the Government of India introduced fishing ban in the Exclusive Economic Zone, contiguous to the territorial waters of Kerala. This ban was introduced by maritime States as and when they found it suitable. This created a new problem. Because of varying ban periods the boats started migrating from States with ban to States without ban. This prompted the Central Government to have a uniform ban period for the West coast and another for East coast, based on the weather differences. Additionally a longer ban period was proposed for all vessels propelled by engines beyond a specified horse power. The uniform ban period along the West coast was not fully in tune with Kerala's conditions. An interim order passed by the Honourable Supreme Court in 2006 imposing fishing ban for 62 days from 15th June 2006 to 15th August 2006 all along the West coast for all vessels having engine horse power of 10 and above, affected even the traditional fishing in Kerala. This led to heavy protests from different corners. Hence the Kerala Government wanted to study this issues specifically, for which an Expert committee was appointed with the Secretary to Fisheries as Chairman. This committee has submitted its recommendations to the Government in 2007. One of the recommendations of this committee was for continuing the ban and restricting the same to 47 days starting from 15th June of the respective year.

As per studies carried out by different scientists the ban has benefited the Kerala fisheries to a large extent. The marine fish production has shown drastic increase from an annual average of 3.3 lakh tonnes during pre-ban period to 5.7 lakh tonnes during ban period. It is reported that the annual per capita income of earnings of active fishermen increased steadily from Rs. 7,025 in the pre-ban period (1980) to Rs. 38,636 during the ban period. Similarly the average per capita income of the secondary sector in 1980 was Rs.18,522 which became Rs. 61,646 in 2005. The literacy rate among the coastal fishermen was about 40% in 1980, which became around 90% by 2005. Solutions to the complex livelihood issues: For fishermen, the sea is the abundant treasure and the supporter to his livelihood. What leads to the over catching is the change in the cost of living and difficulty to meet both the ends of the life. The fluctuating market conditions and the lower price of the fish due to increased players in the field urge him to sustain his life by exploring hitherto unexplored. The following are the livelihood recommendations found out largely while discussing the issues with the artisanal fisher folk 1) Indian coast is rich with fish wealth. So an overall assessment of the total fishery sector has to be undertaken immediately. As per the assessment, a comprehensible ecosystem approach to resource use and fisheries resource management is to be adopted 2) Increase Prime Minster’s Kerosene and Diesel assistance to fisheries sector. 3) State should phase out destructive gear, such as bottom trawling and assess and reduce over capacity. 4) State should encourage small scale, selective sustainable harvesting technologies to maintain employment opportunities within fishing communities. 5) The role of women in the economic activities of coastal fishing communities supplements region’s livelihood. The degradation of coastal eco systems and the displacement of fishing communities from their living spaces have adversely affected the workload and quality of life of women in the communities. Involvement of Self Help Groups and NGOs in this field can create more opportunities. 6) Recognise the value of the work to develop a database. 7) Improve condition of work of women in fish processing plants. 8) Recognize the rigid enforcement of marine boundaries in historic waters in relation to the communities that live and fish. 9) Coastal states with surplus resources should consider providing preferential access to such artisan or small-scale sea worthy fishing vessels subject to effective flag state control and response. 10) The specifications and licensing procedures should be maintained with 11) Steps are to be taken for the building up of marketing infrastructure and its maintenance. So there should be initiatives from the Government to run the appropriate marketing mechanisms like fish outlets, processing plants etc. 12) There is an urgency to carry out sea-friendly fishery practises to be adopted soon. 13) To check irresponsible and harmful fishing, there should be a ‘community policy’ of the sea by the fishermen themselves, which would help the conservation techniques. 14) Unscientific and irresponsible fishing can be done away by educating the fishermen and urging them to have a meaningful approach towards the sea wealth. 15) Matsyafed and other cooperative societies should be depoliticised and they work for the betterment of the fisheries sector. Conclusion

Fisher folk are no longer in a position to abandon motorization and return to manuallypropelled craft. They agree that motorized fishing is not inferior to manual fishing, but its main problem is the enormous cost. What the artisional fisherman wants today is outside help that will free them from commission agents and debt, and introduce lower-cost fishing methods so that fishermen can avoid the burden of future debt. They expect outside help from the Indian government to rid them of commission agents, and from the scientific community to help find new, low-cost motorized fishing methods.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Dr. Abraham C.M., Fishworkers movement in Kerala, Institute for community organization Research, Mumbai, 1995. 2. Kocherry, Thomas. Oru Samarakatha, KSMF, Trivandrum, 1984. 3. Mathew A. Fishworker’s movement in Kerala, Indian Social Institute,New Delhi,2000. 4. Kurien John, 'Entry of Big Business into Fishing. Its impact on fish economy',

Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), vol. 13, no. 36 (9 Sept 1978).
5. Meynen Wicky, 'Fisheries development, resources depletion and political mobilisation

in Kerala: the problem of alternatives', Development and Change, vol. 20 (1989). 6. National Council for Applied Economic Research, Techno-Economic Survey of Kerala (New Delhi: NCAER, 1962). 7. Kurien John, 'Technical assistance projects and socio-economic change. Norwegian intervention in Kerala's fisheries development', EPW, vol. 20, nos. 25 & 26 (22-29 June 1985).
8. A.J. Vijayan , Economic and Political weekly July 15. 1985 9. National fishermen’s forum, Voice of the Storm, Trivandrum, 1995. 10. Kocherry Thomas Indian fisheries sector – Last fifty years, world forum of fish harvesters and fish workers, June, 1998. 11. Government of Kerala, Marine Fisheries of Kerala at a glance 2003, Department of Fisheries, 2003. 12. Save Fisheries sector, Malayala Manorama 14 April 2000.

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