The union territory of Puducherry is a combination of four regions; one of them is the district of Puducherry on the east coast along the Bay of Bengal. The district has 17 fishing villages, and the fishers here are adversely affected by climate change and pollution from unplanned tourism.

With no support from the government to overcome the livelihood distress, fishers are heavily debt-ridden and are looking for other livelihood options. The NewsClick team visited Pudukuppam fishing village to learn about their condition. Excessive flooding in recent monsoons has driven large amounts of plastic garbage into the sea along the Puducherry district’s shoreline. Plastic gets accumulated in the Chunnambar river and enters along with the river into the sea at Nonankuppam. The massive amounts of plastic have deteriorated fish yield along the coast.

“The plastic appears bright inside the water, and fish breeds in places that appear dark like a forest. Also, fish eat worms from the marshes, but plastic settles on the floor, preventing access to worms. Moreover, the growth of algae is excess in the water, which changes the water quality and makes it appear dirty. Fish won’t stay in places like these,” said fisher Ayyanarappam.

He also said, “The government should clean up the coast. Every twelve hours, there are high and low tides. During low tides, the sea can be cleaned using modern technology. It is not impossible.” Jeyakodi, another fisher, said, “In the summertime, we used to spot fish from the shore. That is no longer the case. There is no income in fishing. Hundreds of boats are standing still on the shore. This is because of plastic.”

Two types of boats are used among fisherfolk of the Puducherry district – the key boat and fibre boat. The bigger key boat owners are provided with a diesel subsidy, but the smaller fibre boat owners are not eligible for it. Fisher Kalignanam said, “We spend around Rs 1,000 a day to venture into the sea. But, we do not get fish worth Rs 1,000. If four of us go fishing, only if we catch fish worth Rs 2,000 we will each earn at least Rs 200. So, if we get a diesel subsidy, it would be good.”

He further said, “We are not driving the boats on the road. We should be given diesel without road tax.” Fibre boat owners of neighbouring Tamil Nadu are eligible for diesel subsidies. Moreover, Pudukuppam village borders a Tamil Nadu village and fisherfolk get the subsidy there.

The registration process for the boats in Puducherry is incomplete, and the fisherfolk have been demanding its completion for four years. Only if they are registered, and the boats are insured will the fishers be eligible for compensation in case of an accident. Neither the earlier government nor the present one has processed it. “Nowadays, due to climate change, we are unable to predict rains and floods. If we are in the sea and an accident occurs, only if our boats are registered and insured will we get compensation; even if a boat drowns, we cannot claim anything,” said Kalaignanam.

A harbour-cum-port project stands abandoned in Pudukuppam. Puducherry has only one harbour, and fishers are demanding the completion of this project. “When a harbour was proposed in our area, some farmers protested. But they later accepted that Moorthi Kuppam harbour would be useful for all. But, the government is dilly-dallying, citing lack of funds,” said Jeyakodi.

“Our then constituency MLA Radhakrishnan was the one who brought this scheme. The present CM Rangasamy laid the foundation for the jetty. We have approached him several times, but he is not listening,” said Ayyanarappam. He further said, “Every year, the sea advances 15 to 20 metres inland, and now, the space between the main road and the sea is merely 30 metres. We all own fibre boats 30 metres in length. To pull them, we use tractors requiring 20 metres of space. It is very disheartening. Because of this, we don’t feel like going fishing. If the harbour is completed, the boats can be docked in the jetty, and they need not be pulled into the shore.”

The lack of support from the Puducherry government to overcome their livelihood distress has pushed fishers into debt. Jeyakodi said, “Around 30 years ago, the sea was 200 metres inside. Even in those less modern times, the income of the fisherfolk was sufficient. Now, in these advanced times with engine boats, we are unable to make any progress. This is because of the price rise.” One of the younger fishermen, Kalaiarasan, said, “Tou can’t find a fisher who is not debt-ridden here.” Another young fisher, Akash, said, “Last month, my brother left for Qatar to work in a tourist boat. My mother has set up a petty shop; she earns around Rs 100 to 200 daily, and she runs the house with that. My father is dead.”

The lack of fish has affected businesses dependent on seafood. Gopi, a dry-fish vendor, said, “Earlier I bought one kilo dry of fish for Rs 40-50, now it has doubled. It is difficult to get quality dry fish for Rs 100. We used to circulate around 500 to 1,000 kilos of dry fish/week, but it has reduced to 100-150 kilos now. Due to the lack of fish, we are pressed to look for other work.”

Although there are schemes for fisherfolk, the fisherfolk are unable to access them. “For women fish sellers, there is a two-wheeler loan. There are loans for Tata Ace and battery vehicles. There are loans for knitting our nets yearly. But the Puducherry government is not making use of them. We don’t know why,” said Ayyanarappan…