The government has indicated its intentions to permit and encourage deep-sea fishing as well as train fishers while bringing about structured control over near-sea fishing activities to attain sustainability.
Fisheries Minister Saji Cherian said at a workshop here organised by the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos) that the government would provide permission and training to selected fishers in deep-sea fishing.
He said fishing in near waters (within 12 nautical miles) did not yield enough fish for meeting the requirements of the State even as aquaculture needed adoption of new technology to meet the shortage of wild catch.
The decision to encourage deep-sea fishing comes in the wake of Kerala, where annual fish consumption is way above the national average, witnessing a fall in catch over the years. Kerala’s fish consumption is nearly 30 kg per head per year while the national average is around six kg and the global average around 22 kg.
According to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute figures for 2019 (no reliable figures available for 2020, 2021), India’s marine fish production showed a marginal increase but Kerala’s landings went down 15% and oil sardine landings (which supports the vast majority of traditional fishers and is a major ingredient in the food supply system) was the lowest in two decades.
India recorded 3.56 million tonnes of fish landings in 2019. Tamil Nadu stood first with 7.75 lakh tonnes, followed by Gujarat (7.49 tonnes). Kerala recorded 5.44 lakh tonnes. For Kerala, the fall in the catch of Indian mackerel, a near-shore resource, is quite disturbing. Indian mackerel landings fell 43%. While poor fish landing is attributed to depletion in resources, there have also been severe change in weather conditions with cyclones hitting the coast resulting in loss of fishing days.
Fisheries scientist Sunil Mohammed, now retired from CMFRI, says near-shore fishing involves the question of management while deep-sea fishing requires development and training. He says oceanic squid is one of the resources that can be tapped to boost the fisheries along with myctophids, which can be deployed for fish meal production in place of commercially important juvenile fish.
General secretary of the All Kerala Boat Operators’ Association Joseph Xavier Kalapurackal says the Marine Products Export Development Authority should be entrusted with the task of deep-sea fishing issues so that there will be a uniform allocation of fishing vessels across the coastal States. He says there are around 15,000 near-sea fishing vessels and 2,600 deep-sea vessels operating off the Kerala coast. The authority could decide on the optimum fleet size and the fisheries targets.
While the Indian fisheries sector is estimated to be worth around ₹ 1,87,000 crore, Kerala earns around ₹40,000 crore a year.