During a recent cleanliness drive at the SGPDA wholesale fish market in Margao, a fisherwoman passionately appealed to officials to not evict her. Other fish vendors shared her sentiment. They asked the authorities to consider their plight if they were displaced. How would they feed and educate their children? How would they sustain their livelihood at a time when government support is negligible?

The incident was a stark reminder about the difficulties fisherfolk stand to face if they are denied their right to everyday business. It also highlighted all that could be done to alleviate their distress if they are simply provided with the right infrastructure.

Sadly, the local fishermen believe that the issues at the SGPDA market are just a part of bigger problems their community has been facing across the state.

For starters, they point to the step-motherly treatment they receive from the authorities, who, according to them, prefer to provide better access and facilities to wholesale fish traders.

South Goa’s fisherfolk community has also demanded that the Goa government stop bringing in fish from other states. They say they are capable of catering to the seafood requirements of the entire district all on their own.

They have also alleged that fish coming from other states is laced with formalin – a preservative used for biological specimens and not for food items – and that the wholesale fish traders block them from entering the market, thereby depriving Goans of the chance to purchase freshly caught fish.

“What is the need for bringing fish into Goa when we can meet local requirements? The government should stop all trucks carrying formalin-laced fish at the borders itself.  The market is flooded with fish coming in from so many states, but the sad part is that Goan people are not getting access to fresh fish that is available with local fishermen,” says Cutbona Fisheries Cooperative Society (CFCS) chairman, Vinay Tari.

His demand has been supported by Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) and the traditional fishermen’s association from Vasco, too.

Custodio Dias, president of the Vasco-based association, says that the fish they catch at night is sent to the market early the next morning. “If the customers get this fish, then they are getting safe seafood, and it also makes Goan fishermen happy that the fish they work so hard to get is consumed by the locals,” he says. Dias, however, laments that the state government and authorities are least bothered in helping local fishermen and resolving their issues at a time when the wholesale traders allegedly dominate the market.

Tussle Of Trucks

GRE vice president Camilo Souza says the machinations of wholesale fish traders start with their trucks. He claims that these large goods carriers, some of them in bad shape, are parked alongside the road leading to the wholesale market for hours together to ensure that the trucks of local fishermen do not get sufficient space or time at the wholesale fish market.

Souza also blames these trucks for causing pollution in the wholesale fish market and asks why the authorities do not stop them from blocking space on the roadsides, which he says doesn’t just inconvenience the local fisherfolk but constricts parking space for customers too.

He even believes that these trucks from outside Goa carry fish laced with formalin due to scarcity of fresh water and ice production facilities in other states to preserve seafood while in transit.

Why The Cold Shoulder?

CFCS chairman Vinay Tari demands that local boat owners, ramponkars, and even those involved in shellfish extraction, should be offered due support from the state’s authorities. Lack of cold storage facilities at jetties, near beaches or along rivers where fishermen conduct their activities has made the going tough for the community, he says.

Also, with the government being unable to construct a training wall at the mouth of the River Sal, fishermen from Betul have sent a proposal to the Centre for the construction of an artificial breakwater facility at Cutbona as an alternative. They have long been facing issues entering and exiting the sea due to problems with the navigational channel which in turn has affected their livelihood.

“The artificial breakwater system will benefit everyone – from big fishing vessels and motorboats to small fishing boats and even traditional fishermen. It will even help the tourism industry. A small fishing port like Karwar already has such a system in place,” Tari says as he lists the benefits. “An artificial breakwater will help daily docking, unloading and loading activities. Presently, boat owners operating from Cutbona are totally dependent on the tidal system, especially at the mouth of the Sal.”

Locking Horns Over

Bull Trawling

Incidentally, the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF) and other traditional fishermen have repeatedly presented their list of demands not only to the state fisheries department but also to the Union fisheries ministry. Prominent among these demands is a ban on all destructive fishing methods and gear.

“Unfortunately, for the last seven years, the violation of the ban on bull trawling, or pair trawling, and the use of LEDs in territorial waters and the Indian Exclusive Zone (EEZ) still continues. Due to the negligent use of such destructive gear by a handful of operators, nursing grounds of several species of fish and the marine ecology have been virtually destroyed,” NFF general secretary, Olencio SImoes, says.

The fishing community has also pointed to the decrease in fish catch over the years, which they attribute to such illegal activity. NFF has further demanded that all boats from outside the state should be stopped from entering Goa’s territorial waters.

“It is an utter shame that even after the local fishermen have caught these illegal boats from outside Goa and brought the activity to the notice of the fisheries department, these vessels continue to enter fearlessly. They use illegal fishing equipment and carry out bull trawling in our territorial waters using high speed engines,” says GRE president, Agnelo Rodrigues.

Safety Net For Fishermen

NFF has also demanded that all houses of fishermen be regularized as per the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification even as it has pointed out that 32 years have lapsed since the implementation of the CRZ rules, but not a single fishermen’s house has been regularized.

Its next demand has been for an insurance policy for fishermen to mitigate the heavy losses they suffer when their boats and gear are destroyed or washed away during cyclones or other rough weather conditions. There have been complaints that existing insurance facilities have been fraught with problems due to the logistics involved, and that the government is yet to compensate local fishermen who suffered losses during the cyclones that occurred a few years ago.

Yet another demand has been for a Fishers’ Rights Act on par with legislations that offer protection to Adivasis. Similarly, there has been a call for a policy to be framed at the national and state level – on the lines of the agriculture policy, textile policy etc – to safeguard the interests of the traditional fishermen community.

Oil’s Not Well

Another major environmental issue the fishing community has raised is the devastating impact oil spillage, which has not only affected the sea and shore but also several marine species. It has emphasized that a strong legislation be introduced in the country to stop oil spillage as presently, such occurrences are taking place regularly with no  action against those responsible.

NFF has also demanded that the central and state governments immediately find take measures to stop coastal erosion in Goa. This is an issue that has been raised quite often by traditional fishermen, who have highlighted how beaches at Mobor, Sernabatim, Velsao etc have long been facing the brunt of being swallowed by the sea. They fear this phenomenon will lead to their displacement, in that they won’t be able to stay or operate near the beach, or even store their canoes and nets.

Caring for Financial Health

GRE’s Simoes says the financial well-being of fishermen should be on the top of the authorities’ minds. “An exclusive bank, named the National Bank for Fisheries and Fisher Development, for the development of fisheries and fisher welfare should be established just as NABARD is for agricultural development and farmer welfare,” he explains.

NFF has also asked the Union government to provide a livelihood compensatory sum of Rs 20,000 for every fishermen during periods when they are banned from venturing into the sea, such as the monsoon.

“Also, fuel subsidy for traditional fishermen should be increased to 4,500 litres per year as fishermen face several constraints. The subsidy was initially Rs 50,000 but has now been reduced to Rs 30,000,” Simoes says.

NFF has even asked for fuel subsidy to be provided for every canoe registered and for interest-free loans of up to Rs 4 lakh to be provided to all fishermen.

Government’s Take

On its part, the State government, particularly the fisheries department, has claimed that it has taken all necessary measures to support the fishing community, provide the right infrastructure and facilities, and offer new schemes and growth avenues.

Where coastal security is concerned, the department has said that it has already taken steps for setting up a marine enforcement wing. The coastal police recently inducted new patrol boats for monitoring and surveillance activities, too, it has pointed out while adding that checks are carried out regularly at fishing jetties and action taken against violations committed, details of which were released during the recently concluded monsoon assembly session.