Exploited by middlemen, Kerala fishermen seek govt intervention

Say auctioneers purchase catch at low rates and sell it to agents at higher price, demand mechanism for fixing prices at harbours be made permanent

Published: 18th August 2022 06:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th August 2022 06:19 PM   |  A+A-

The Chellanam mini fishing harbour buzzing with activity. (Photo | A Sanesh, EPS)

The Chellanam mini fishing harbour buzzing with activity. (Photo | A Sanesh, EPS)

Express News Service

KOCHI: They brave rough seas and high winds to earn a living. But the lives of traditional fishermen have always been a pursuit of the elusive. They risk their lives to make ends meet but end up making others rich.“Traditional fishermen have become bonded labourers,” says Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation Ernakulam district president Shiji Thayyil.

While a group of fishermen may take a loan and raise `40 lakh to buy a country boat, the auctioneer or Tharakan will lend `3 to 5 lakh and reserve the exclusive right to auction the fish, Shiji says.
“The auctioneer will take a commission of 10 per cent of which two per cent will be kept aside for the payment of bonus during the festival season. They purchase the catch at low rates and sell it to marketing agents at a higher rate. The fruits of the fishermen’s labour are reaped by these middlemen.”

On August 10, the fishermen at Chellanam harbour united and raised their voice against the exploitation by auctioneers. But the protest didn’t make an impact as the government turned a blind eye. That day, the fishermen got a good catch of large oil sardines which are in high demand in the Kerala market.
However, the maximum amount quoted by the auctioneers was `50 per kg. The same fish was sold to traders at the rate of `200 per kg and was sold in the retail market a few kilometres away from the harbour at the rate of `300 per kg.

“There is an unholy nexus between the auctioneers and the traders. They make profits five times of what the fishermen earn. The government should intervene and ensure a minimum support price for fish,” demands Shiji.The state government had introduced a mechanism to fix the price of fish at harbours during the lockdown period. The harbour management committees -- with officials from the fisheries department and the Matsyafed representing  the government -- were empowered to fix the minimum price.

The fishermen demand the system, which was beneficial to them, be made permanent to end exploitation. “The price of kerosene, used as fuel by country boats, has reached `145 per litre and each boat needs at least 150 litres per day. The civil supplies department and the Matsyafed have stopped giving subsidy for kerosene. Each boat will have 10 to 25 fishermen in it. If we get a catch of `60,000, each fisherman will get `500. How can we support our families with such a meagre income?” asks Saji, a fisherman.

As there is no fishing harbour in Alappuzha district, fishermen from Kattoor, Arthungal and Chethi coastal villages depend on Vypeen and Chellanam harbours in Ernakulam district. They transport the boats to Ernakulam by trucks, adding to their expenses.“Around 200 boats operate from Chellanam and we don’t have the facility to handle the huge quantity of fish brought to the harbour. This provides the auctioneers an opportunity to bargain and reduce the price of fish,” Saji says.

Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi president Charles George echoes the sentiment. “On some occasions, the fishermen may get a bumper catch which reduces the fish price. The government should establish cold storage facilities at harbours and the Matsyafed should intervene and purchase some quantity of fish to stop price crash,” he says.

Meanwhile, fisheries department central zone joint director M S Saju says the government had issued ‘The Kerala Fish Auctioning, Marketing and Maintenance of Quality Ordinance’ in 2021 to regulate fish auctioning and marketing and to promote systematic, hygienic and effective handling of fish.
“A new Act with provisions to control the intervention of auctioneers and traders will be introduced soon,” Saju says.

21 fishing harbours in state
Marine fishing villages: 222
Mechanised boats: 3,500
Deep sea fishing vessels: 51
Country craft:  29,969
Non-motorised country craft: 2,515
Fishermen population: 10.49 lakh


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