Tension in Mayiladuthurai fishing villages over use of purse seine nets

In January last year, the Supreme Court allowed the use of purse seine nets under stringent conditions.
A purse seine fishing net kept on the deck of a mechanised boat
A purse seine fishing net kept on the deck of a mechanised boat Photo | Express

MAYILADUTHURAI: Tension prevails in fishing villages across Mayiladuthurai as communities are once again divided over the use of purse seine nets. Fishers opposed to the use of purse seine nets are demanding a complete ban on the nets, arguing that the pro-purse seine group is unable to adhere to the conditions set by the Supreme Court.

In January last year, the Supreme Court allowed the use of purse seine nets under stringent conditions. These included fishing only twice a week (on Mondays and Thursdays), during specific hours (from 8 am to 6 pm), within the Exclusive Economic Zone but outside territorial sea waters (from 12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles).

Despite the ruling, divisions have deepened between the groups. Ten villages led by Poompuhar are adamant about using the nets but are unwilling to comply with the conditions. Conversely, around 18 villages led by Tharangambadi are demanding a complete ban, citing non-compliance by the pro-purse seine group.

Following the end of the annual fishing ban period on June 14, the Poompuhar-led group attempted to resume purse seine fishing, provoking the Tharangambadi-led group. This has led to declarations of protests from the latter, raising concerns about potential law and order issue given the history of violence between the groups.

On Saturday, the Sirkazhi Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) convened a meeting with representatives from ten villages, including Poompuhar, and officials from various departments. "We cannot agree to the conditions like '8 am to 6 pm' and 'twice a week' due to various challenges like rough sea, weather conditions, fish availability, and fish school migration," stated N Chandirababu Nattar, a fisher-representative from Poompuhar.

On Monday, Collector AP Mahabharathi led a meeting with representatives from Tharangambadi. T Pichai, a representative, argued, "The purse seine fishing nets are a threat to fish resources in the sea. Traditional motorised vessel fishers will be more affected as well. If Poompuhar and other villages cannot follow the usage conditions, then it should be banned." Notably, the net, which costs Rs 10-Rs 20 lakh, is designed to form an enclosure around a fish school in the sea and is mostly used to catch sardines, oil sardines and mackerels.

The use of the nets was banned in Tamil Nadu in 2000 as it is considered a threat to biodiversity. According to the fisheries department, only three boats have agreed to conditions and are thus authorised to use purse seine. "We will impound the boats which do not abide by conditions. We will also seize and auction their catch," the collector said. Some of the purse seine fishers are reportedly going to Puducherry flouting the norms. The collector said he is reaching out to the Puducherry collector to prevent it.

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