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June 4, 1997


Fishermen-trawlers on warpath in Kerala

D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

As monsoon gears up to hit Kerala, tension is building up in the coastal belt with the traditional fishermen and the mechanised boat operators heading for a showdown.

The Independent Fishworkers Federation -- representing traditional fishermen -- launched an agitation on Monday, demanding that the state government's 45-day ban on trawlers be extended to cover the entire monsoon season. On the other hand, the trawler operators have been protesting against the ban which comes into effect on June 15.

The federation held demonstrations at all the fish-landing centres and government offices across the state, demanding a three-month ban as per the Balakrishnan Nair committee's recommendations. The committee felt such a ban will help conserve marine resources. Refuting the claim, the mechanised boat owners said the ban would deny them the major haul of the year which invariably comes during monsoon.

State Fisheries Minister T K Ramakrishnan's attempt to defuse the tension proved unsuccessful as both sides remained adamant at a meeting convened by him recently.

Federation president T Peter has threatened to intensify the agitation. Though monsoon trawling is banned in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa, Kerala fishermen have to fight every year to get the ban introduced. He claimed that the fish yield had gone up considerably ever since the ban was first introduced in the state in 1988.

However, Kerala Mechanised Boat Operators Association president N Vincent said export of shrimps would suffer as the traditional fishermen could not catch them.

Monsoon trawling has been a source of tension in Kerala. The clamour for and against the ban had triggered violence in the past. This year too traditional fishermen have threatened to detain trawlers found flouting the ban.

Marine experts and government agencies are divided on the issue. While one section claims that the ban would help conserve marine resources, the other section maintains that there is no scientific basis for the ban as fish breed throughout the year.

Two government departments have expressed contradictory views on the issue. While the department of ocean development is in favour of the ban, the commerce ministry has been opposing it, saying it affected exports. However, both sides have no authentic statistics to establish their respective positions.

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