For Chennai fishermen, longer trips resulting in lower catch

Published on
October 22, 2019

Fishermen based out of the Royapuram fishing harbor in Chennai, India, are having to go further and further out to sea in order to catch the same species they used to.

Chennai’s fishing harbor features hundreds of smaller boats fishing on a smaller scale, which in the past would take shorter trips near the shore to catch a variety of demersal and pelagic species. However, fishermen say that in the past few decades, they have been forced to head out to sea for much longer periods of time in order to get the same amount of catch.

“Fishing days are increasing, because near-shore there is no catch,” said Dr. S. Velvizhi of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

The MSSRF was founded by Professor M. S. Swaminathan, and performs research and outreach to accelerate development of both agriculture and ocean-based food industries. Velvizhi is a key part of the MSSRF’s Coastal Systems Research team, which develops tools for aquaculture and fishers in India.

Guna Manivannan, a fishing boat owner in the harbor, said that longer trips are becoming more and more necessary in order to get the same species that historically have been sourced closer to shore. Manivannan said that the first big shift happened in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, which devastated the East Indian coastline.

The tsunami did more than harm infrastructure, it also disrupted the ocean floor, Manivannan said. Since then, demersal species have been few and far between.

Planning their trips is also becoming more difficult, Manivannan added. In the past, fishermen could go out with one gear type and have an idea of where to catch a desired species, but changes in the ocean require them to take more gear and spend a longer time searching for their catch.

That difficulty is partially a result of climate change, Velvizhi said.

“This is due to changes in sea water temperature,” she said. Changing currents have led some species to shift further out, following the cold water. The currents are also moving faster than before, making it harder to track down where the fish are.

Velvizhi and Manivanna were addressing attendees of the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s GOAL conference who were participating in a day-long workshop for the Sustainable Oceans Leadership Institute (SOLI), a new program oriented around climate change. The workshop gave attendees a chance to have first-hand conversations with fishermen and those running aquaculture operations to learn what changes they’ve seen to their industries in the past few decades.

Velvizhi and the MSSRF were instrumental in creating the “Fisher Friend” mobile application, which provides free information about the weather, potential fishing zones, and other information. According to Manivannan, and a number of other fishermen, the app has become essential for avoiding increasingly unpredictable weather.

Even with the app, Manivannan and other fishermen said the changes to their livelihood have made them hope their children choose a different profession. None present at the meeting said they hoped their sons would follow in their wake.

Photo courtesy of Chris Chase/SeafoodSource

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