Far from the spotlight that Lakshadweep hogged after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a stroll down its splendid beach, the fishermen’s community is fighting for their survival for the lack of infrastructure in the islands. The fishermen of Lakshadweep, who are surrounded by rich fisheries resources, are now struggling to carry on with fishing. Lakshadweep has a majority fishing community and the revenue they earn from fishing is the main source of their livelihood.

Lack of facilities

With no facilities for cold storage or to take their catch out of the islands, many fishing boats are now resting on the shore or in islands like Agatti, which has the largest number of fishing boats registered among Lakshadweep islands, many are being used for transporting tourists between Bangaram Island and Agatti. “If we catch more fish, then we don’t know what to do with it. Unless collection vessels come from the mainland, our fishes will go to waste. Even when collection vessels come, we are forced to sell for the price they demand,” Askar, a local fisherman said.

Even these collection vessels from the mainland are far and few between, and only about 7 of more than 200 fishing boats registered in Agatti go to Kochi to sell their catch.

Fall in prices

“Only boats with a higher tonnage can go to the mainland with their catch. Most of our boats are small and we depend only on the consumers on our island to sell our catch and the prices are minimal,” Ansar, another local fisherman in Agatti said. Earlier, many islanders made good money by making ‘Mass’ (a local name for dried fish) out of tuna, using indigenous methods, and selling them on the mainland.

Earlier, we had good demand for ‘Mass’, but now there is no market and the prices have fallen. It is no longer economical for us to sell it on the mainland,” Anwar said. Even now some of them convert their tuna catch to ‘Mass’, to salvage them from decaying and going to waste. “That is the prime reason why we only prefer to catch tuna. Other fishes will go to waste if unsold. Tuna, we can at least convert it to ‘Mass’,” Askar said.

Unlike fishermen from Kerala, the fishermen in Lakshadweep do not use nets to catch their tuna. They rely on angling boats for tuna fishing. High fuel price on the island is also a major stumbling block for the local fishermen.

‘We welcome tourism projects’

Many fishing boats remain on the shore as the local fishermen look for other odd jobs. “Most of us in Lakshadweep belong to the fishermen community and creating infrastructure for promoting fishing and marketing are of paramount importance.

We welcome tourism projects as they can develop our islands. But it should not be at the cost of killing fishermen’s livelihood,” Askar said. Fisheries department officials, who refused to comment on the record, said that they have cold storage in Agatti but which remains closed many days. “We have an ice plant that has some technical issues and remains closed for many days. We cannot do anything and the plant maintenance is on AMC and we still have a valid guarantee for the plant. So, it is the company that is maintaining it,” the official added. However, Islands like Kavarathi do not have any such facilities and they depend solely on the sales in their tiny islands.