Trawl boats want to catch inedible species for fishmeal; fisheries department not enthused

The proper harvesting and utilisation of the species will relieve the excessive pressure on the coastal resources which are specially targeted for fishmeal and allied sectors,” says the study.
Trichiurus lepturus and (below) Trichiurus auriga.
Trichiurus lepturus and (below) Trichiurus auriga.

KOCHI: A debate is on in the fisheries sector on whether to allow mechanised boats to tap non-conventional marine resources or not. While, the boat owners demand permission to catch pearly hairtails, a non-edible fish species for the fishmeal industry, the fisheries department says a fishing licence has been issued to catch edible species only.

Around 20 lakh tonnes of pearly hairtails or Trichiurus Auriga, belonging to the Ribbon fish category are available in the deep sea located around 90km off the Kerala coast. The mechanised fishing boat operators in Kerala want to tap this non-conventional resource, but the government is yet to take a call. According to a study by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), published in the science journal Aquaculture Spectrum, the resource has tremendous potential.

“The pearly hairtail has a life span of around one year and they mature and spawn within 6 to 7 months. Developing a deep sea fishery for them would aid in diverting part of fishing efforts from heavily fished coastal waters to deeper waters. The proper harvesting and utilisation of the species will relieve the excessive pressure on the coastal resources which are specially targeted for fishmeal and allied sectors,” says the study.

The fisheries department says it is difficult to differentiate between pearly hairtail (Auriga) and large head hairtail or the popular ribbon fish which is an edible species. The Auriga appears similar to the juveniles of ribbon fish. The enforcement wing of the fisheries department recently imposed a hefty fine on the deepsea trawlers for finding huge quantities of juvenile ribbon fish at the Kollam fishing harbour. It was later found that they had mistaken the auriga species for juveniles of the ribbon fish. While the Kerala fisheries department has strictly prohibited the catching of the pearly hairtail, fishermen from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu caught around 4 lakh tonnes of the species between October 2022 and February 2023.

“It is difficult to differentiate between the juveniles of the ribbon fish and the auriga. Besides, the fishing licence is issued to catch edible fish and not for commercial fishing. The restrictions on juvenile fishing imposed by the department have helped to ensure sustainable fishing and our fish landing has witnessed a steady growth due to the intervention. Kerala stands third in fish landing with a catch of 6.9 lakh tonnes in 2022-23 and this time we have crossed 7 lakh tonnes by the third quarter of the year,” said fisheries joint director M Thajudeen.

“The restrictions imposed by the Kerala fisheries department will lead to the migration of the industry to neighbouring states. Only Kerala has imposed restrictions and hefty fines on juvenile fishing while neighbouring states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are very supportive. If we are allowed to catch the species, the Kerala government will get an additional revenue of Rs 1,000 crore,” said All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association general secretary Joseph Xavier Kalapurackal.

“The allegation that the two species cannot be differentiated due to taxonomic ambiguity is due to lack of expertise,” said CMFRI principal scientist E M Abdussamad, who led the study.

Pearly hairtail

  • (Trichiurus Auriga)

  • A non-edible species in demand for the fishmeal industry

  • 20 lakh tonnes of species available in the fishing ground extending from Kollam bank to Kanyakumari of southeast Arabian Sea.

Depth: 300m to 600m

  • They rise to a depth of 100m-150m during midday as part of diurnal movement

  • 4 lakh tonnes caught between Oct 2022-February 2023

  • Size at maturity 26cm

  • Ribbon fish

  • (Trichiurus Lepturus)

  • Edible species

  • Size at maturity 50.6cm

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