CHENNAI: As thousands of fishermen along the coastal belt of Tamil Nadu returned to sea after a 60-day hiatus, the trawlers at the usually busy Kasimedu harbour in Chennai remained anchored on Thursday, following a dispute between boat owners and fish sellers over relocating the fish market.
Trawler owners have refused to go fishing until fish sellers agree to shift their traditional market to the newly-constructed fish auction stall outside the harbour. However, the fish seller association, having obtained an interim stay in their favour from the Madras High Court, has refused to budge.
This has led to a deadlock that is affecting the livelihood of hundreds from the fishing community here, who are now dependent on the catch from the small fibre boats.
At the heart of the dispute is the State government’s decision to convert the fishing export zone to a fish auction stall.
Fish sellers allege that the stall does not have the space to accommodate all the existing sellers at the present location, claiming that the livelihoods of almost 5,000 sellers would take a hit if they move into the congested auction stall.
“Around 500 small stalls operate outside the fishing harbour on Sundays. The auction stall can accommodate only the big ones,” said Vigila, a hawker in the fish market.
“We told the trawler owners to bring their catch to the traditional market for the time being until proper arrangements are made for us,” added N Selva, secretary of the ice, fish and parcel associations at the harbour.
Trawler owners, on the other hand, allege that the traditional market lacks hygiene and hampers the long-term prospects for the fish industry in Kasimedu. “The fish market outside the harbour is unhygienic. That is why we want the fish sellers to use the facility constructed by the government,” said a trawler owner who wished to remain anonymous.
A meeting between a consortium of fish sellers and trawler owners on Wednesday failed to pave the way for truce between the two parts of the fishing industry. Trawler owners have now decided to wait until the government finds a way to accommodate the fish sellers in the auction stall.
However, that is far from easy. While attempting to modernise the fishing sector, the government seems to have ignored the sheer number of fish sellers. The auction stall also lacks loading and ice facilities to transport the catch to nearby States.
According to fish sellers, the initial idea of an export zone falling through is an indicator of the downsides of the amenities offered by the fish auction stall building.