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Kerala Seafood Industry Facing Problems Irrespective of Lockdown Ease Guidelines

The All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association has requested the Centre to be lenient on implementing the trawling ban this year, in view of the surging seafood demand in the post-Covid days. The ban on the East Coast comes into effect from April 15.

Chander Mohan

The All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association has requested the Centre to be lenient on implementing the trawling ban this year, in view of the surging seafood demand in the post-Covid days. The ban on the East Coast comes into effect from April 15. But the current lockdown in Tamil Nadu would come as a blessing for the fishermen in that region to recoup their business once the restrictions are over, he said, adding that they would, in all probabilities, enter into Kerala’s coastal waters for poaching, leaving the fishing community here to remain mute spectators. Joseph Xavier Kalappurackal, General Secretary of All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association, noted that each boat requires an initial investment of ₹2.5 lakh to start operations and it would be difficult to raise this amount in this distressing period. 

The Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines issued recently to revive fishing operations in the country has not brought any cheer to the crisis-hit seafood industry, particularly in Kerala, as the sector is facing issues such as closing down of shrimp peeling centres, and raw material shortage, etc. 

There are about 400 peeling units across the coastal Ernakulam district that employ about 50,000 workers, mostly women. Social distancing norms have forced companies to close down these units. So far, the authorities have not given any exemption to these units, despite lifting curbs in various activities in the fishing sector, said Alex K Ninan, Kerala Region, President of Seafood Exporters Association of India. 

Several ancillary units depending on the sector, such as carton manufacturing, polythene suppliers, chemical manufacturers, etc are also not operating, as informed to the media. 

Satyanarain Lakkaraju, former president of All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association, also had his view point that  it is easy to announce any decision on paper, but will be hard to implement it on the ground. The aquaculture sector is at a standstill in Andhra Pradesh in the absence of workers. Any decision to resume farming operations can be taken only after the lockdown period, he added. 

The immediate requirement, Ninan said, is allowing fishing boats to operate as there is a total ban on trawling activities. Fishing boats can fetch good yields as it is the season for smaller size shrimps, squids, cuttlefish, Baigai (sea snails), etc. 

He also pointed out that the ensuing 45-day monsoon trawling ban on the West Coast from June 15 will make things worse. The request of boat operators to call off the trawling ban this year, considering the present fishing holidays in the lockdown period, has been turned down. Even if boat owners are preparing to start operations, they will have limited time before the ban comes into effect, he said. 

Elias Sait, Secretary General, Seafood Exporters Association of India, said there are several ground-level issues that need to be addressed. On the one hand, there are movement restrictions for cargo and on the other, the sector is facing a labour shortage, by about 20-30 percent. If the government takes positive steps, the sector would able to cope up with the situation. 

The market is now unsteady due to the slowdown and is likely to be stable by the end of May. The delay in getting lab reports, closing down of Export Inspection Agency offices, courier service companies to despatch shipping documents overseas, etc are some hurdles. “We are also seeking the government to give approvals from NABH-accredited private labs for seafood export consignments,” he said. 

Since the export market was down, it would be ideal to extend the trawling ban period both in the East and West Coast, which would help to replenish the stock, said Ganesh Nakhawa, Chairman, West Coast Processing Fishing Welfare Association. The easing of fishing restrictions comes at the most inappropriate time when the labourers have left following the lockdown and there was no transport available for the movement of the catch. 

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