I am from Gir in Somnath district. I came to Porbandar 33 years ago in search of employment when I was 14. I found a seth (businessman), who was into the fishery business. My seth is a resident of Porbandar. He has nine trawlers. I am now a senior staff and no longer go to the seas. I manage the trawlers and supervise the tandel (captain) and khalasis (sailors). A standard trawler has a tandel and seven khalasis. Fishing is a tough job. You need special skills to negotiate the volatile sea.
The fishing season begins on August 15 and continues till May, before the three-month break for monsoons. We don’t get any salary for the three months. We can either spend the time at home or look for other jobs. A 20-day trip to the seas requires 3,000 litres of diesel worth Rs 3 lakh, ice slabs (to keep the catch fresh) worth Rs 20,000, ration and fishing nets. One trawler costs Rs 45 lakh. Its engine alone, a China-made one, costs Rs 13 lakh. Porbandar has over 4,000 boats at present. But boats turn old and break down as well. In the last few years, 200 boats in Porbandar alone have broken down. We dismantle them and sell the wood and spare parts in the scrap market.
On the seas
A trawler remains inside the seas for some 20 days, comes back, unloads, refuels, takes ice and ration and goes back. The unloading and reloading of a trawler takes a couple of days. There is no off or holiday for the boatmen during the period, as they unload the catch and refuel. I diligently keep accounts and records of each trawler, its boatmen. There are several slots of salaries. The sailors from Gujarat get Rs 20,000 per month, those from outside get Rs 12,000. Gujarati sailors work more. They are hardened ones and know the sea more than people from other states. Even among Gujaratis, there are two categories—mota bhai and moila. The moila are the experienced ones and get a salary twice that of a mota bhai.
We go up to the India–Pakistan border, which is not very far from Porbandar, to catch fish. The Coast Guards don’t bother us unless we go too close to the border. If they see us closing in, they ask us to go back. But when the Indian Navy is not around, the Pakistani Navy sometimes detains Indian boats and fishermen and takes them to Pakistan. They release the crew after six–seven months, but don’t release the boat. The Indian government should do something about it…