THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Erratic weather conditions due to climate change, threat of cyclonic storms round the year and advancing sea the fishermen community in Thiruvananthapuram is fighting many odds each day. With their livelihood hampered, these fishers are struggling to support their families. Due to weather disruptions, they rarely get to fish these days. These families are in constant danger of displacement and starvation.
Ever since Ockhi hit the shores, cyclonic storms have become a regular affair in the state but Kerala is still not prepared to handle them. In the past three to four years, the coastal areas have been eaten away by sea erosion. The state departments lack the experience to prevent such natural disasters.
Hike in kerosene prices
The intermittent hike in kerosene price has also crippled the fishing community. Jackson Pollayil of the Kerala Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation said “Even if the fishers go out in the sea, they are unable to make any profit as they are spending more on the fuel now. The number of days they can fish has also reduced largely,” said Jackson. In 2021, the fishers in Kerala lost around 76 working days.
“The state government should compensate the fishermen for the days they lost. Precautions being taken as part of disaster management is stifling their livelihood. The government agencies should write off all the loans given to fishermen who are struggling for survival. The agencies like Mathsyafed are offering loans to fishers at 12.5 percent interest with an additional service charge,” said Jackson.
Families face displacement
Valiyathura, a coastal hamlet in the capital, is the worst hit. Over the last four years, around 1,200 homes were destroyed and swallowed by the sea in Valiyathura alone. The situation is similar at Cheriyathura, Bheemapally, Kochuthoppu, Valiyathopp, Kannanthura and Vettucaud. Xavier Andrews, a traditional fisherman, and his family from Valiyathura are constantly living in the fear of displacement.
“Around four rows of houses along the Valiyathura coast have been washed away by the advancing sea. My house, which belonged to my mother, where I have been living for the past 45 years, will be gone this monsoon. The government should take steps to protect us and our property. Every year, hundreds of houses are getting washed away. I have been asked to move to the relief camp,” said Xavier.
Lack of profit has plunged Xavier’s family into a deep financial crisis. “There is no shore for fishing. We have to go to Vizhinjam to venture into the sea. Local fishermen there often create friction. But this is the only job I know to do,” he added. Former Valiyathura ward councillor Tony Oliver said 50 out of the 140 constituencies in Kerala are coastal areas and the changing governments have failed the fishermen community.
“They have no clean drinking water or sewage lines. Apart from announcements, no projects were launched to protect the coast from the advancing sea. They just want our votes. There is no opposition to help raise our demands either,” said Tony.
Unscientific fishing activities
The destruction of the shoreline has adversely affected the livelihood of around 4,500 kambavala (gill nets) fishermen. There are around 87 kambavala units in Poonthura. “Fishing equipment worth lakhs have been damaged and I am in a deep financial crisis. We have to dole out more money for fishing and it’s not profitable anymore,” said Antony Stancilas, a traditional kambavala fisherman.
“The state randomly issues warnings on days and restricts us from venturing into the sea, even when the weather is normal. This should stop. Weather warnings should be more accurate as our livelihood depends on this. Unscientific fishing activities by industrial units have become rampant. Many countries and other states are curbing trawling activities to improve marine resources. Traditional fishermen are returning empty handed because of all this,” said Anto Elias, vice chairman of the Mathsyathozhili Karshaka Samyukta Samara Samiti.