“The coast is our space, we must reclaim it,” says Antony Kurishinkal, veteran fisherman, champion of fishers’ rights, and an irrepressible student of the sea. At 45, he has been a fisherman for over three decades. He understands how thousands like him tame or ride the waves at great personal risk to earn a livelihood and strive to pass an unblemished sea to the next generation, as precious as a family heirloom.

Speaking from Karwar coast in Karnataka on Wednesday, he said he was on a two-month bicycle trip along the west coast of India to create awareness among the fishing community about their rights and rightful place. “The coast is the fishers’ inheritance. It must be reclaimed for the community to spread its wings,” he said after completing 15 days of the trip, alone on a bicycle from Arthunkal in Alappuzha district.

He feels that the coasts are being handed over on a platter to development activities, while their traditional safe-keepers are being alienated from the only space they have. “The coast is not only a space for making a living. It is a mental space, where fishermen are free to expand their horizons, express their longings and share their dreams,” he added.

Mr. Antony’s coastal trip to meet fishermen like him has taken him to some of the least known fishing harbours in the country, where fishermen tell the same story. He said the coastal people’s hardships were going to increase as the traditionally rich coastal waters and their resources would become the property of large companies. He pointed to how tourism projects had flourished along the coast leaving little space for fishermen.

Instead of standing stupefied before the new developments, the fishermen must use this rude awakening to join hands to fight the monopolies that have already captured the hills and forests as their own, he said. Mr. Antony entered the Goa coast on Wednesday from where he will cycle to Maharashtra and Gujarat where he will interact with fishermen and other stakeholders on the dangers that await the sector, especially those in the traditional sector.

He said that over his more than 30 years of experience in the sea, the current lean season had been the hardest. Fishermen from Kerala to Karwar have complained of little catch. All of them also have common complaints of unsustainable practices, unrestricted operations of large fishing vessels and trawlers as well as destructive practices like night trawling using massive lighting systems.

These are issues that will figure prominently during his interactions with the coastal residents. The cycle trip has been supported by independent fishermen’s union Swathanthra Matsya Thozhilali Federation and National Fish Workers’ Forum.