Lockdown impact: With no access to livelihood, small scale fisheries sector needs urgent relief measures from govt

The small scale fisheries sector, also known as artisanal or traditional fisheries, are practiced by fishermen who use unique methods of fishing based on natural tidal patterns and seasons, small boats, go fishing for limited periods, make few trips and use relatively less fossil fuels in the overall fishing activity. The sector is prominent for India’s coastal development programmes as it is a major contributor of employment, food security and export earnings. Small scale fisheries contribute to a significant amount of catch in the coastal communities of India. The ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) estimates that about half of all small scale fish workers accounted for are fisherwomen.

Small scale fishing methods are important and essential in ensuring sustainability in fishing, marine wildlife habitats and ensuring cultural and traditional knowledge is protected.

 Lockdown impact: With no access to livelihood, small scale fisheries sector needs urgent relief measures from govt

Representational image. PTI

The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) estimated that 90 percent of all people directly involved in fisheries work, are small scale fishers. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in 2019 released a press report which said that the fisheries sector is a major contributor to the overall agricultural sector and estimated it contributed to about 1 percent of India’s annual GDP. However, the lack of policy protection, political representation and poor documentation has resulted in low representation, loss of fishing grounds to infrastructure development and marginalisation of the community to address urgent issues that it faces, especially in a period of national and global health or disaster crisis.

Lockdown and fisheries impact

A lockdown was announced by the Indian government on 24 March, 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic which has since brought to a halt production, trade and sale of goods. Besides, it also restricts the movement of people. The lockdown was essential in order to reduce the spread of the pandemic, given that India is the second-most populous country in the world. The escalation from the lowest to the highest stage of the pandemic would progress faster and farther if necessary social distancing and quarantine measures are not taken. However, for the unorganised and semi-organised workforce, which accounts for about 80 percent of India’s workforce, this meant reverse migration, food shortages and loss of a sustainable livelihood.

Impact on small scale fisheries

The semi-organised to unorganised fisheries sector, particularly the small scale fishers are the worst-hit in any national or global crisis. The characteristics of small scale fishing—place of fishing, methods, sale and storage mechanisms being diverse and unique to various communities, raises the following issues with respect to the lockdown:

  • Small scale fishers sustain on a daily catch. The fish workers usually go fishing for short periods of time in the intertidal or subtidal region and their catch depends on the daily accessibility to the coast. The lockdown that mandates social distancing has essentially stopped access of the small scale fishers to the coast for their daily catch. Most small scale fishers operate in low numbers from one to five. They sustain on the daily catch for home, community consumption and local sale.
  • Fisherwomen account for half of all small scale fishers. The sale of the catch is dominantly carried out by this demographic and the lockdown means no catch; thus no sale. Fish and fish commodities were not included in the list of essential commodities initially, with several state governments imposing complete lockdowns on markets. Due to this, we have seen several media reports of commercial fishers discarding their entire catch of fresh fish back into the sea as there is no option for sale and storage. Daily sale provides livelihood sustenance for fisherwomen and their families.
  • The spring catch for small scale fishers is an important phase of monetary sustenance. The catch is more diverse than other seasons and this monetary spring sale ensures sustenance for the community during the monsoon ban period.  The monsoon ban period is also the period of repair and maintenance of nets and boats and without the spring catch and sale, this would add up to economic pressure on the community as they would require loans to carry out maintenance costs to be able to resume fishing post-monsoon and ban periods.
  • Measures taken so far

    The measures taken up by the Centre involves providing immediate relief through monetary compensation to the affected community. The amount to each community or boat owner/labourer/fish vendor, etc is ambiguous and unclear. The Centre also implied it would compile the number of affected fish workers, fish farmers and fish vendors to provide this financial aid. However, for an unorganised and fairly undefined sector like the small scale fishers, this would warrant a mild chance for them to avail any relief through these monetary packages. Another component to consider is that the relief package will not contribute to a percent of the monetary spring sale that they would require to sustain the monsoons and ban period.

    Immediate measures required to be taken

    The immediate measures for relief for small scale fishers across the country during the lockdown would be:

    1. Immediate relief by allowing access to the coast by issuing advisories and guidelines on the number of trips permitted per week. The maximum number of fish workers in these trips can also be limited and personal protection equipment (PPE) provided to eliminate health risks.
    2.  Include sale of fish, especially local catch from small scale fishers and the community, into the village and town horticulture shops that are currently selling vegetables and essentials to the villages and cities across the country. This would eliminate the risk exposure of fisherwomen and fish vendors for sale as the catch, like horticulture produce, would directly be brought by the government for sale in these ration shops. Additional hygiene advisories can be issued for sale of fish during the lockdown. This also ensures the catch is sold as per the market price and won’t lead to unfair, low pricing or vice-versa.
    3. If periodic markets are allowed, like in some parts of the country which are open only for a few hours, fish vendors and fisherwomen must be included into these markets and personal protection equipment (PPE) provided to such vendors with social distancing measures. Some fishing societies are already practicing these health guidelines in the sale of fish in their communities.
    4. Monetary compensation must be allocated to registered societies than to individual accounts. The individual accounts scheme is eligible currently to only Aadhaar-linked bank accounts, which several fish workers in the commercial or small scale sector do not possess or have access to currently. This also raises ambiguity in the proper dispersal of this monetary relief to the most affected during this period of lockdown

    (The author is a coastal policy researcher and marine wildlife conservationist)

    Updated Date: Apr 05, 2020 09:05:04 IST



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