Over 250 boats from Neendakara are currently busy harvesting ‘baiga’ and it will take you some time to figure out that the word fishers use so casually is the Japanese for sea snail.
An export-oriented gastropod mollusc, it is endemic to Kollam with a two-month season ending in May. “It’s a species of sea snail abundant in Neendakara. We cannot say it’s totally endemic as its sporadic presence is seen in other places too. But Neendakara is the only place where it’s available in huge volumes,” says Fisheries Deputy Director H. Salim.
The fishers say they take daily trips, though not too far from the coast considering the current weather conditions. “These two months we focus on baiga and since it has to be brought live to the shore, we take daily trips. Before taking it to the processing plant, we keep it in fresh seawater for around five hours to clean the flesh. This species has no local market, so the entire catch goes straight to processing plants. In Kerala, Neendakara is the only region where you get this variety,” they say.
Priced up to ₹130, the fisherfolk consider it a good option just before trawling ban starts.
According to exporters, Japan, Taiwan, and China are the main markets of the product where it is used in many traditional delicacies. “It’s a seasonal market operating hardly two months a year and an average of 1,000 tonnes is exported each time. In Kerala, all the export units get the product from Neendakara. Since it has to be cleaned live, it’s not possible to take it to faraway places for processing. It’s usually exported as a raw product without any value addition,” says Peter Austin of Capithan Exporting Company. He adds that Pakistan is a major competitor in the field as the country has a larger harvest window. “Karachi-based exporters ship the product for over six months.”
Mr. Salim says the Fisheries Department is trying for a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for the species. “Currently, the yellow clam (Paphia malabarica) from Ashtamudi Lake is the only product from India to get that recognition. In the case of baiga, it is a very short harvest and the rest of the year we leave the species to breed, which is a very sustainable practice. So we are really hopeful of getting the certification,” he adds.