COVID impact on livelihoods of marine fishing communities along India’s east coast

Situation Assessment & Recommendations

1.Overview: In India, over nine million people directly depend on fisheries for their livelihood of which 80 per cent are small scale fishers.The industry employs over 14 million people and contributes to 1.1 per cent of the Indian GDP.Fishing is mainly carried out with traditional fishing crafts, motorized boats and small mechanized crafts. Overall the east coast region produces 25 per cent of total Indian marine landings.

2.COVID measures: Fishers have not ventured into the sea since 20 March 2020. The annual fishing ban period begins on April  15 and will continue till June 15 along the east coast of India. As a result, marine fishers will effectively lose nearly 90 fishing days this year. So, there is huge pressure among the fishers, fish vendors and fishing labourers as a result of the  lockdown.

3.Impacts

  • Day-to-day earnings  of  fishers affected in all coastal districts.
  • Small scale fishers who fishing near the shore are struggling to market their catch with new norms and short time available for sales. Rates are about 30 per cent lower now.
  • Income of fish vendors, mainly women, has been badly affected due to the pandemic as fish is not available for sale and they are losing valuable daily income
  • Migrants to Kerala and Karnataka for fishing activities are without work due to national lockdown and some households have been reduced to one meal a day.
  • In the case of trawler fishers, those with storage facilities can preserve their catch from before March 20, for marketing laterbut with greater struggle and at very low prices. Those without storage facilities are severely affected and huge quantities of fish were discarded as well.
  • With the export market also on standby, the entire fishing sector chain and its allied sectors are adversely affected.
  • With supply chain disrupted, thousands of ice-plant workers,  fishers involved in diesel transportation to the boats and youth are losing their daily wages.
  • The lockdown has also affected maintenance activities of boats and engines potentially causing damage to high-cost assets.
  • Income of fish vendors, mainly women, has been badly affected due to the pandemic as fish is not available for sale and they are losing valuable daily income
  • The post-monsoon catch for small scale fishers is an important phase of monetary sustenance. The catch is more diverse than other seasons and the income from the spring sale  ensures sustenance for the community during the fish ban period.  The ban period is also the period of repair and maintenance of nets and boats and without the spring catch and sale, there will be economic pressure on the community as they would require loans to carry out maintenance costs to be able to resume fishing after the  ban period.

  • Regions: The east coast of India covers the four maritime states Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, and the Union Territories of Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • Types of communities affected: Eg. the different section of fishers, fish vendors, fishing labourers, workers in allied sectors etc.

4. Fishers’ voices

C N Kesavaraman, Chennai: There are about 100,000 fishers in and around Chennai. I’m from a family of traditional fishers and in my memory, this is greatest loss we have ever seen. It is six to -seven days at the most that we have not ventured into seaand even thenwe were allowed formaintenance of our boat, net etc. However, this time, we are totally shut down. We understand it is for our life and healthbut if we can fish and sell along the shore with some safety norms, we can take care of our livelihood. With the fishing ban coming on April 15, we have no idea how to overcome that as well. We just got INR 1,000 from the Public Distribution System and some food supplies but how long will that actually help a family of 4-5 people. Fishing communities have not yet been approached by officials to take their thoughts. On our initiative we have set up a community kitchen for about 100 people per day. We are just looking for a way to carry out our work.

Yogambika Tamizhselvan, Nagappattinam:There are about 2,500 women who work as fish vendors, locally and outside. We are in great difficulty; from taking on the household burden, we are also taking on the burden of coronavirus as well. We are not able to go out even to ask for help, not able to get a pass, though grocers are gettingpasses. They are allowing vegetables and milk but not fish. If only we can go to sea,if they tell us how it can be safe. We don’t have anything other than cereals to eat. There are a lot of problems at home with men looking for illicit alcohol, due to the lockdown since regular alcohol shops are shot. They are even pawning our ration cards for INR 500. Violence in the homes has increased greatly since the lockdown.

 

“We depend on the sea for our daily earnings. We can deal with bad weather, cyclone and choppy waters. But the corona virus has ruined our lives,” MaheswarMandal, a fisherman in Kendrapara, Odisha.

5. Nutrition Impact: Fish has an important role to play in nutrition, food security and consumption of fish is the key to good health. It is especially crucial for women and children.Lack of fish in the diet will have considerable impact on nutrition security, particularly of importance for marginalized communities.

6. MSSRF Support:MSSRF work on the field

Since the lockdown, MSSRF has been taking a few efforts to support the marine fishing communities.

  • Facilitating the fishers and fish vendorsto receive government announcements related to COVID-19 in a timely manner
  • Organizing phone-in programs and audio conferencing with experts on regular basis and address theirtimely queries
  • Facilitating the fish farmers to harvest their fishes maintaining social distancing and facilitate them to sale the fish through whatsapporders
  • Disseminating the information through Fisher Friend Mobile COVID 19 and also its precautionary measures.

 

The issues faced by fishers and fisher women have been documented and periodically updated to the district administration for necessary support online and off line awareness program is being conducted, posters displayed and in all the coastal villages, 24/7 help line facility support to fishers to address their issues related to Corono by – to fill in here – awareness being given; phone-in programs, linkage with govt. schemes etc.

 7. Recommendations:

  1. Provide an immediate relief package for fishing communities for the lockdown period. This should not be connected to regular compensation provided for the ban season.
  2. Enlarge the scope of work under MNREGS to include skilled work such as fish drying, or value addition, processing, net mending for immediate relief. This will particularly help rural women, including fisher womenmanage the household.
  3. Fisherfolk in villages that fall under municipalities and town panchayats and not just village panchayats, should also be provided employment relief. 
  4. The National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) and fisheries departments of the states concerned should come out with a package on priority basis
  5. Special efforts must be made to address domestic violence issues faced by fisherwomen at the household-level.

 

Credits

Coordination & Editing: R V Bhavani, B Jayashree, Content: S Velvizhi Contributors:Deepak Ramaiyan, D Suvitha
E Thamilzhazhagan , N Veerabhadra Rao, J Arockia Kevikumar, A Mubarak Ali
E Selvaganapathy, Akshaya K Panda, Design and Web: K Dileep, R Srinivasan

Print version : COVID Policy Brief – Marine Fishers        

Share