Thiruvananthapuram: Both fishermen and fish- eaters are going through a torrid time in Kerala with the ban on the ecologically destructive trawling in the deep sea during the monsoon season. Meanwhile, scientists say the catch of sardine will be low along the state’s coastline during this monsoon too. Fisheries research institutions in Kerala, including the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), concur and blame the El Nino phenomenon for the situation.
Sardine catch began to fall drastically in the state since 2013. In 2012, around half of the 8.39 lakh ton fish caught in sea off Kerala was sardine. With the advent of the adverse weather phenomenon called El Nino, sardine catch decreased and the worst figures were recorded in 2015. In 2017, there was an increase but El Nino arrived again in 2018 and sardine is in short supply now.
When the trawling ban is in place catching sardine is the only means of livelihood for traditional fishermen. The present crisis is expected to affect over 1.25 lakh traditional fishermen in Kerala. Around 400 boats with inboard engines which support at least 50 workers each are also facing a big challenge. Fishermen who borrowed money for launching boats are on the verge of bankruptcy and the threat of attachment of their property. Considering the situation, fish workers’ unions have demanded an urgent ‘fish drought package.’
The deadly El Nino
Studies have shown that El Nino, an ocean current of warm water that is caused by climate change, reaches the Arabian Sea all the way from the Pacific Ocean. El Nino has also neutralised the flow of the nutrient-rich seawater along the Kerala coast from the north to the south.
As a consequence, the spawning of sardine has witnessed a downward spiral. Moreover, the fish face stunted growth and reproductive problems.
“Considering the data available over the last 60 years, it can be rightly said that El Nino has led to the sharp decrease in sardine catch in Kerala,” according to CMFRI scientist Dr Sunil Muhammed.
Sardine from other places aplenty
Even though sardine production has fallen in Kerala, the fish is easily available in the state’s markets. The fish markets are in fact offering sardine brought from Tamil Nadu and Oman, that too at a record price of Rs 250-320 per kg. The fish is transported from Nagapattinam, Kadalur and Parangippetta in Tamil Nadu where it is known as ‘pechaala’ and has no demand. This catch arrives at the fish centres in Aluva, Ponnani, Kalamukku and Chettuva in Kerala and is sold as ‘Purakkad mathi’ and ‘Munambam mathi’ (sardine from Purakkad and Munambam) in the state.