Ground Reports

Goa Elections: Rough Tides Rock the Boats of Fishing Community in Goa

As Satyajit Kuddu, a fisherman and a migrant laborer from Kolkata who for the last decade been in Goa, arrives at the fishing port after around six hours, the boat owner’s son Sanket Kolle is concerned about the little fish landings. Kuddu takes out small baskets, carrying varying varieties of fish including prawns and crabs, from the boat and hands them over to Kolle who was waiting to take the fresh catches to the local market.

By Rohin Kumar, 14 Feb 2022

Fisherman calling off their day (Picture Credit: Rohin Kumar)

Pahle subah 5 baje jata tha aur shaam tak kam se kam 70-80 kg machii uthata tha. Abhi 25-30kg bhi mushkil se ho pata hai (When we would start at 5 AM, we would be able to collect around 70-80 kilograms of fish per day. These days we hardly manage to get even 25-30 kilogram),” says Kolle. His family is one of the respected families in the local fishing community, ‘a family that once owned at least 16 boats,’ recalls Sannu Bhaoi, a fisherman originally from Maharashtra but now settled in Goa for more than three decades.

Goa’s rich freshwater and marine ecosystem offers free and highly diverse fisheries. However, due to a plethora of local and global environmental reasons, the livelihoods of people associated with the profession are impacted.

“During our childhood, I remember, fishermen folks would only use fishnets to catch fish and would go in deep seas with traditional boats. These boats were named after saints as fishermen believed their blessings would help them at work and save them from any uncalled-for incidents. Now with big ships and boats and an increase in mechanization, there is overfishing,” explains Kolle.

A conference paper titled, “Fisheries sector of Goa” by Sajiya Mujawar and Sreekanth presented at Goa University in 2021, said, “The continental shelf area of Goa extends to 10,000 square kms of about 100 fathoms depths. The current annual average marine and inland fish production is estimated at 86,027 and 3,669 tonnes, respectively. About 550 fish and shellfish species are recorded in the marine fish landings. The numbers of pelagic, demersal, crustacean and mollusk species identified were 200, 280, 95 and 90 respectively.”

The paper says that Goa shares nearly 2% of the total marine fish production of our country with the marine fisheries sector contributing to about 3% of the state’s GDP and 17% of the agricultural GDP. “Hence, the fisheries industry plays a vital role in socio-economic development by contributing substantially towards Net State Domestic Product through export and domestic trade,” the paper reasoned.

“A significant part of my life has been spent in Kolkata and Odisha and in the same work (fishing), and what I understand is that marine life is precious and must not be used in excess. If one uses big machines and modern equipment to catch fish, that also means big fish (referring to companies and fishing giants) are eating small ones (small fishermen),” Kuddu adds to Kolle. Both of them explain to Mojo how changes in ‘weather patterns’ and ‘harvesting rates’ are exacerbating the woes of the fishing community.

A research paper, titled “Overexploitation of fishery resources, with particular reference to Goa” by Z. A. Ansari, CT Achuthankutty, and S. G. Dalai also highlights the challenges of the fishing sector due to overfishing and mechanization. “With marine catches stagnating due to overexploitation of commercially important stocks, rising demand can only be met through more rational fisheries management and resource development. Therefore, reducing fish stock to biologically and ecologically harmful levels will result in a loss of potential benefits such as food, income, and employment in the long run. This necessitates the sustainable management of this renewable resource,” according to the report.

Satyajit Kuddu, a fisherman with fresh catch (Picture Credit: Rohin Kumar)

Local issues of concern

 “We (fishermen and local trawlers) demand that the State Fisheries Department stops fishing vessels from neighboring states that operate in the territorial waters of Goa,” says Ganesh Madua, a local fisherman at Morjim. “These boats use ‘illegal’ fishing equipment that scoops out all the fish catch, especially smaller-sized fish,” Madua adds.

In Canacona and Salcete, after complaints from local fishermen, Coastal Police registered a few cases where action was taken against such boats and the personnel on board, he adds.

 The second major complaint from fishermen and various traditional ramponnkar (used to describe the traditional fishermen of Goa) associations has been about the use of bull trawling, LED fishing and other illegal fishing gear. “When they use LED techniques, they are able to gather huge amounts of fish in less time. If that happens, what would be left for us,” says Madua’s friend Tate Madua.

“We have demanded strict action against destructive gears like bull or pair trawling, high-speed engines and the use of LED lights equipped with or with generators. The unchecked misuse of such gears has adversely hampered the livelihoods of the traditional fishermen. Goa will soon become like Norway, Denmark, Oman, New Zealand, and Australia where such destructive gear had brought fishing to a standstill,” believes Agnelo Rodrigues, the President of Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE).

Other demands of fishermen include better infrastructure for the fishing community, better cold storage facilities and holistic welfare support.

However, Goa is one of the first states in the country to implement the United Nations Convention of 1982’s Maritime Fisheries Regulation Act. The tiny state mostly relies on fish captured from Malim, Coutbona, Vasco Mormugao, and Panaji. Around a half dozen fishing societies are active and financially assisted by the Directorate of Fisheries thus, lowering fish stocks may have an impact on marine life, food, and livelihoods.

 Climate Change impacting livelihoods

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, Global warming of 1.5°C, emphasized that disadvantaged and vulnerable populations like indigenous peoples and fishing communities are at a disproportionately higher risk of suffering adverse consequences as a result of global warming. It categorically pointed out that coastal regions are directly vulnerable to rising sea levels, local and regional land subsidence, storm surges from severe cyclones, and changing intensities and frequencies of precipitation events.

In the context of Goa, communities living in low lying areas, informal settlements, people with disabilities and those whose livelihood dependents mainly on khazan lands are in particular the immediate and most vulnerable groups, as per the State Action Plan on Climate Change for the State of Goa for 2020-30.

Pahle mausam bhi accha hota tha, itni garmi nahi hoti thi aur machii ka khana bhi khoob tha (Earlier the weather was not so unpredictable and even the food for fish was enough),” recalls Kuddu. What Kuddu refers to, in his jargon-free understanding, is well articulated by climate scientists: “A significant decline in marine phytoplankton ((microscopic marine algae which are food for whales, shrimp and jellyfish) has been observed in the Indian Ocean.

A study by Climate Research Lab indicated that the marine phytoplankton population has decreased by 20% in the last six decades and it has declined by 30% in the western Indian Ocean during the last 16 years because of rapid warming.” A decline in the marine phytoplankton population can affect the marine food chain and the overall impact the food security in the countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

Local Fish Market in Siolim, Goa (Picture Credit: Rohin Kumar)

According to the Marine Fish Landings Report 2019 by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), fish catch from the western coast of India has declined and scientists attribute this drop to global warming and a decrease in phytoplankton population.

Not only fishermen communities but even the consumers face the brunt of the looming crisis in their own ways. “There has been a tremendous increase in fish prices over the last five years. I remember buying 20 Bangda (a local fish) for Rs.100 and now I buy 5 of that, which is too little for Rs.100,” says Ritesh Parelkar, who buys fresh catch almost every day from the local Mandrem market.

The fisheries sector contributes to India’s food and nutrition security, so a decline in fish landings also is a concern for social welfare. Fish are a key source of protein for a large section of the population. The sector also employs a large number of people, both directly as fishermen and indirectly in adjacent industries.

As Goa goes to the polls, local groups are calling for a green manifesto by the name ‘Amche Mollem campaign,’ demanding sustainable development for the state that prioritizes people over businesses.

Gilbert Soyus, Environmental conservationist and member of Aamche Mollem Campaign in conversation with Mojo said, “The traditional and local fishing communities house a wealth of generational knowledge which has allowed for sustainable practices to be followed when it comes to fishing in Goa. These communities know, for example, the traditional fishing grounds, and more importantly when to and when not to fish in a particular area. They have knowledge of the breeding seasons and so on, along with use of sustainable practices, thus knowing when and how to allow an ecosystem to restore itself, and not overexploit it.”

The Green Manifesto, first and foremost, highlights the importance of understanding and mapping this traditional fisheries knowledge, and subsequently incorporating it in the present, in order to build climate resistance.

“The manifesto also speaks of the importance of creating incentives for these communities to implement native aquaculture systems, such as mussels, oysters and seaweed farming, which could aid in providing security in livelihoods as well. Most importantly, the manifesto highlights the importance of improving public participation and public consultation of local communities prior to any sort of development in and around these ecosystems. The local communities are an integral part of these ecosystems and must be protected at all times in order to protect the ecosystem as a whole,” Soyus concluded.