KOCHI: Kerala has seen the influx of migrant labourers in several sectors over the years. Till now, fishing has been perceived as an area stationed above the flooding of workers from other states. But that’s no longer the case.
A study conducted by the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), Kochi, found a large number of traditional fishermen from five Indian states were engaged in marine fishing off the Kerala coast owing to shortage of native fishermen.
This fact was validated on Sunday. Charles George, state president of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi, said only two Malayali fishermen were on board the boat that collided with a Panama-based cargo ship - an accident in which two persons were killed and one went missing. He said rest of the crew were migrants.
According to the study, the fisherfolk in Kerala comprises skilled and non-skilled fishers from Sundarbans region in West Bengal, Puri, Khorda, Cuttack and Baleswar districts on the Odisha coast, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts in coastal Andhra Pradesh, Udupi district in Karnataka, apart from fishermen from Kanyakumari, Cuddalore, Thoothukkudy and Ramanathapuram districts in Tamil Nadu.
Around 90 per cent of the fishermen employed on trawlers operating from Kerala coast are migrant labourers. There are around 2,800 trawlers in Kerala and each boat employs around 14-16 fishermen. Exploitation of migrants has become the way of life of the investors in this sector. However, a majority of the country boats - both mechanised and non-mechanised - are being operated by traditional fishermen in the state, Charles said.
According to Benoy Peter, executive director, CMID, people from Assam and West Bengal with no prior experience in fishing are being employed in these fishing boats. Among the major harbours visited as part of the study, Vizhinjam was the only place where the presence of migrant workers was less. Like several other sectors in the state, traditional fishing segment is also facing acute labour crunch. Only a very few young men from the state find fishing as an attractive means of livelihood.
As a result, native labour force diminishes, and the labour shortage is addressed by engaging workers from other states, he said. Though it takes several months for migrants to master the required skills, it pays dividend for the owners as the running cost is substantially low when employing them. They start off their work on board by learning how to sort different kinds of fish.
According to a boat owner from Munambam, a minimum of four to five migrant labourers are employed as deck hands in each trawler operating from Munambam. In most boats, the payment system for these fishers is based on the share of the catch.
Traditional skilled fishermen
Many traditional skilled fishermen from the Sundarbans region in West Bengal and Odisha too are working in several Kerala harbours. Usually, the captain gets a double share in addition to the allowances and the rest of the crew get single shares. Since these boats venture into the sea for fishing trips lasting for 10 to 15 days, most migrant fishers live in the boats. Some live in rented rooms near the harbour provided by the boat owner, the study said.
Despite the presence of local workers, the fish processing sector in the state heavily depends on migrant labourers. Aroor in Alappuzha district and Neendakara and Sakthikulangara in Kollam district are the major fish processing hubs, where migrants - both men and women - from Assam, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand and Nagaland work.