CHENNAI: In a move that would bring cheers among fishing community, State government is fast-tracking the proposal to built a standalone 'Tuna Fishing Harbour' in Thiruvottriyur Kuppam near Ennore with a net fish handling capacity of 69,000 tonnes per annum.
The state government’s conscious attempts to enhance the harbour facilities and promote deep-sea tuna catching and processing is seen as a solution to fishermen’s problems.
Department of Fisheries, which is executing the flagship project, has already obtained Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) and awaiting for State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) clearance before commencing the work. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has conducted the public hearing a few weeks back.
Fisheries Commissioner GS Sameeran told Express that the proposed tuna fishing harbour was a flagship project of the State government intended to create exclusive facilities for better tuna catching and processing. "The facility is intended principally to ease out the congested Chennai fishing harbour as it is overflowing with more traffic and fishing activities. At times, there is an acute shortage of space to land the boats inside the harbour. The proposed harbour location is about 3.5 km north of Chennai fishing harbour which will provide location advantage and flexibility in harbour operation and fishing activities."
He said the department was already in final stages of taking over the administrative control of Chennai fishing harbour, which is currently managed by Chennai Port Trust. "Port Trust Board and State government have submitted their concurrence and the file is before the Ministry of Shipping. Once approved, Chennai fishing harbour and proposed tuna fishing harbour can complement each other and pay rich dividends to the fishermen of the region."
As per the Detailed Project Report (DPR), the proposed harbour will have fish handling halls, auction hall, cold storage, ice factory, fuelling station, power-back up centres and dormitory for workers. Water spread areas and the proposed wharf facilities are envisaged with elaborate planning and engineering design to facilitate fishing activities and boat or vessel management for about 300 FRP boats, 300 trawlers and 200 tuna vessels.
At present, from the Chennai fishing harbour, there are about 300 boats operating exclusively to venture deep into the Bay of Bengal to catch tuna and bring in about 1,000 tonnes every month.
Deep-sea 'tuna' fishing is future
Tamil Nadu government is making a conscious attempt to enhance the harbour facilities and promote deep sea tuna catching and processing, as this is seen as a solution of fishermen problems.
As per the estimates, the fishery resource potential oceanic tuna in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is 2,13,000 tonnes. Method of fishing and hygienic on-board handling of Tuna are the major criteria to maintain its quality for export market, yielding high returns for the catchers. The basic cold storage facility of the deep sea fishing vessels presently operating from Tamil Nadu is inadequate to meet export quality.
Moreover, there are no shore infrastructural facilities such as chilled receiving stations with temperature-controlled duct for receiving Tuna from the fishing vessels, pre-processing and freezing facilities to maintain the cold chain to handle the high-valued deep sea catches, thereby posing major concern when it comes to exporting.
Sameeran said the proposed tuna harbour will bridge this logistic gap. "State government is providing 50 per cent subsidy to build tuna long liners, which would cost about Rs 60 lakh. Tuna fishing is most
sustainable. Per annum income from deep sea fishing can be eight times higher compared to a trawler."
Driving a change in Palk Bay
Johny tom Varghese, Project Director-Palk Bay and Additional Director of Fisheries, told Express that Tamil Nadu was pioneering the deep sea fishing market with a special scheme that has a central assistance component. "We are executing a Rs 1,600 cr scheme to convert trawlers in Palk Bay to deep-sea longliners and facilitate efficient deep-sea fishing market, build state-of-the-art vessels and reduce
Indo-Srilankan fishing conflict."
He said seven tuna longliners are already built by Cochin Shipyard Limited and out in the sea. "Work is in progress for 33 more vessels in 20 boat-building yards, which are empanelled specifically for this
project. Eight firms are also empanelled for the supply of components such as the marine engine, refrigerated seawater system and refrigerated fish hold for deep-sea fishing vessels."
Presently, there are around 3,600 mechanised boats engaged in trawling in the Palk Bay districts viz. Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Pududkottai and Nagapattinam with approximately 80,000 fishermen
directly dependent on fishing for their livelihood. Fishing by trawling is considered to be an unsustainable and unviable fishing practice and the continuous trawling operations in the narrow and
enclosed water mass of Palk Bay has caused depletion of its precious living resources.
To provide suitable berthing facilities for the deep sea fishing boats and to reduce the fishing pressure in the Palk Bay, construction of a fishing harbour at Mookaiyur, a deep sea fishing Infrastructure
facility at Kunthukal in Ramanathapuram and construction of a fishing harbour at Poompuhar in Nagapattinam were undertaken. Out of these, Mookaiyur and Poompuhar facilities are completed and operational.
Lessons from failure
ME Raghupathy, one of first few fishermen from Chennai who tried deep sea long lining, said the department and government should follow what they promise on paper. "Three years back, seven of us have availed bank loans and built tuna long liners only to suffer heavy losses. The reason being non-availability of skilled workforce, who can go on 21 day voyage and operate on-board machinery. We paid Rs 25 lakh for refrigerated sea water system and cold room, but they become defunct due to poor quality and handling. I tried for two years and now has converted vessels to gillnet." He said the concept is good and has the future, but government should implement it properly.
- Tamil Nadu has around 1,076 km of coastal line that passes through 13 out of 32 districts that consist of four coastal zones i.e. Coromandal Coast, Palk Bay, Gulf of Mannar and West Coast.
- There are 608 coastal villages, primarily fisherman community, having more than 1.9 sq.km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with 41,412 sq.km(inshore area: 16,058 sq.km, offshore: 7,197 sq.km and deep sea: 18,157 sq.km) of continental shelf under their activities.
- The fishing community population is around 1.1 million in Tamil Nadu (2015).
- Tamil Nadu is one among the leading exporter of seafood with the export of marine products of 93,477 MT and earned a foreign exchange of Rs 5,308.17 crores. The fisheries sector has contributed 0.7 per cent of the total Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of the State.
Deep sea fishing vs Trawling: Owner's average income per annum
Generally, deep-sea fishing voyages lasts for 10 to 15 days based on the fish yield. Taking this into consideration, deep-sea goers will complete 18 – 20 voyages per year, excluding ban period (61 days).
Among the 20 voyages, 14 voyages are considered an effective voyage period. By analysing the catch details versus expenses, the boat owners may claim around Rs 2 lakh for his share per voyage. Accordingly, owners may expect Rs 25 Lakh as a profit in deep-sea fishing vessels per annum
In comparison, trawling fishing methods last for a day or under 24 hours. Taking into consideration the 10 months fishing practices excluding ban period (61 days), the trawlers may avail 120 voyages per
year. Of these 120 voyages, 70 voyages are taken as effective voyage period, considering the weather warning, rough season, fishermen holidays, etc. By analysing the catch details versus expenses, the boat owners may claim around Rs. 5000 for his share per voyage. Accordingly, owners may expect Rs.3.5 Lakh as a profit through trawling fishing practices per annum.