Chinese fishing nets in picturesque Kumbalanghi bore the brunt of summer shower and storms on Monday night. The storms ruined the means of livelihood of at least a hundred traditional fishermen. More than that, it has opened a pandora’s box that include questions over converting a traditional fishing activity into an industry and environmental concerns about new modes of operating the iconic fishing nets.
“More than 30 nets have been destroyed in the storms”, said Jude Thadeus, a fishing net operator, pointing out that most of the nets near Perumpadappu, Kallencherry, Azhikkakam and east of the Shapu bus stop had been wrecked. Each net would require at least ₹50,000 to get repaired, he said underlining the escalating cost of operating the nets that cost between ₹2 lakh and ₹2.5 lakh apiece to be newly set up.
Kumbalanghi panchayat president K.K. Martin Antony estimates that at least 35 nets sustained serious damage and mourned that the fishermen would get no compensation as they operate without licence.
However, Hibi Eden, MLA, who visited Kumbalanghi on Wednesday, said that a petition was being submitted to fisheries and revenue departments with a view to getting some compensation to the fishermen. He said the government should come forward as it was a natural calamity. Fishermen who lost their Chinese nets during the December 2004 tsunami had received some compensation, he pointed out.
More than the immediate disaster and escalating costs, the traditional net operators are angry that their mode of livelihood is being turned into a means of reckless profit by a group they describe as “well-employed persons”.
Thomas Korassery, district president of CMP which has launched a protest against ‘commercialisation’ of the Chinese nets in Kumbalanghi, said that people who are well heeled own several Chinese nets, which they operate using immigrant workers.
For them, it is a means of profit while for the traditional fishermen, it is a means of livelihood, he said.
The panchayat president conceded that there was a stand-off between traditional fishermen and those who have been operating the nets on a commercial basis.
Traditional fishermen have alleged that migrant workers operate the Chinese nets indiscriminately, which leads to depletion of resources through juvenile fishing. This in turn hits the fishermen who eke out a living using the Chinese nets, said Mr. Thadeus. While those who make a living out of the nets own one or two nets, the others own several nets without being even present on the scene.