M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, 7 April, 2020
The outbreak of COVID-19 and the resultant total lockdown in India has greatly affected the livelihoods of fishing communities across India. The total lockdown may help arrest the spread of corona virus; however, quick and effective intervention is required for fishers to minimize the disruptive effect on the livelihoods of vulnerable population particularly on food systems, storage and market chains, both locally and regionally.
Fisheries in India is an important sector of food and nutritional security. More than nine million active fishers directly depend on fisheries for their livelihood of which 80% are small scale fishers. It employs over 14 million people and contributes to 1.1 per cent of the Indian GDP.
The east coast of India covers 4 maritime states Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal and the Union Territories of Puducherry and Andaman and Nicobar islands.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.
Small scale fishers in India have issues in three areas: pricing, marketing and organization. Many of these are long term needs but there are a few that are immediate and related to the coronavirus.
- Complete lockdown in the harbours and the landing centres has greatly affected the fisher-folks’ day-to-day earnings in all coastal districts. Small scale fisheries especiallyare responsible for providing fish as a significant source of protein at low cost for consumers. This is particularly important for marginalized communities and lack of fish in the diet will have considerable impact on nutrition security of these people.
- In some villages near Chennai, small scale fishers fishing near shore areas are struggling to market their catch. Due to physical distancing norms, only few fisherwomen are able to buy fish from the fishermen in the landing centres. Since the time allotted to sell the fish is very short, they are forced to sell their catch at a low price. For example, if the fish rate was INR 500 per kilogram before COVID-19 lock down, the rate now is just INR 300 to 350.
- Women fish vendors are considerably affected due to the lockdown as there is no fishing activity and in some places,only limited boats are fishing. The low catch brought to the landing centre is subjected to high demand. Even when few women purchase affordable amount of fish from the landing centre for street vending, due to the pandemic, people are not purchasing the fish. Customers are also seen bargaining for lower price. Due to this, their income has totally reduced and they are facing difficulty to manage their families
- The laborers engaged in the sector are severely affected. Usually fishing laborers take an advance from boat owners during the lean/ban fishing period. But now boat owners too are facing financial problems due to the lockdown. So labourersare finding it difficult to meet family expenses. Those who had migrated from Tamil Nadu to other states like Kerala and Karnataka for fishing activities, are now without work due to the national lockdown.Some fishers have informed that their family is having only one meal per day.
- The trawler fishers who ventured out into fishing before the lockdown (before 20th of March) for multi-days fishing have now returned to the shore. Due to lockdown restrictions they are facing difficulties in market their fish. The fishermen equipped with storage facilities are able to preserve their catch and they have possibilities of marketing their harvested fishes later on. There is another section of fishers who suffer due to lack of storage facilities in marketing their catch and are severely affected. It may be pointed out that a huge quantity of Tuna fish was discarded last week, in Chennai because of unavailability or lack of storage facilities.
- The export market is on standby and because of this, the entire fishing sector, along with its allied sectors,is affected adversely. Since the lockdown from March 25th, fish traders aren’t allowed to procure fish and so the export marketing of fish has declined to a great extent. Only fishers are allowed to enter the harbor and that also for a short duration of time (not more than half an hour).
- The supply chain is highly disrupted. Ice-plant workers, diesel workers and youth are jobless. The daily loss is anywhere between INR 500 to INR 2,000.
- The lockdown has affected other fish allied activities like net mending, regular maintenance of boat and engine. This also causes huge damage to the high cost assets like fishing crafts and gears.
- Many fishing families have expressed that besides income loss;the lockdown has seriously disturbed planned activities such as boat and net repair, construction of boats and also in repaying the loans taken for varied fishing purposes.
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. As a result, marine fishers will effectively not be fishing for nearly 90 days this year! So, there is huge pressure among the fishers, fisher vendors and fishing labourers as a result of the lockdown.
“Suitable adjustments will have to be made to provide immediate relief to the corona affected fishing communities. This should not be connected to regular payments like fishing ban period compensation” Prof M S Swaminathan.
In order to protect the livelihood security of fishing communities, an immediate relief package will have to be rolled out for the fishing communities. This should not be connected to regular compensation provided during the ban season.
Enlarging the scope of work under MNREGS to include skilled work can provide immediate relief. For example, fish drying by women or value addition, processing, net mending can be considered as skilled jobs to be paid under MGNREGS. This will particularly help rural women, including fisher women, who are engaged in a range of tasks for managing the household.
Fisherfolk in villages that fall under municipalities and town panchayats and not just village panchayats, should also be provided similar employment relief, for livelihood security.
The National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) and fisheries departments of states concerned should come out with a package on priority basis.