There lies the catch

Gangamma Talli (sea goddess) is our mother. Whatever she offers us, we take it. This is our only source of income,” M. Narsing, a fisherman in Visakhapatnam, replies disarmingly to questions about the destructive seine nets used in the coastal waters in northern Andhra Pradesh.

Such nets dry up the marine wealth, not leaving even fishlings and fish eggs behind. Large quantities of juvenile fish are sold to poultry farms for as cheap as ₹5 a basket. Bycatch such as snakes, puffer fish, ray fish and olive ridley turtles are thrown back into the sea or discarded. The catch from these waters in the Bay of Bengal is hence going down, and the worst affected are fishermen like Narsing. They go fishing in groups of 30 to 35 each in one boat or two and sweep the fishing grounds with huge nets on locating a shoal.

The seine nets resemble mosquito nets and stretch from 500 m to 1 km. Sometimes, two or more nets are used to cover 2 km to 3 km. Even fishlings and fish eggs cannot escape from the net. Scientists say the nets prevent the juvenile fish and eggs from falling back into the sea and stops them from multiplying, thereby reducing the fish wealth in these waters.

“Mesh size optimisation or regulation is a common measure for reducing bycatch of juveniles. The mesh size should be regulated at 22 mm or more. The juvenile fish has to reach the semi-adult stage and breed at least once,” R. Raghu Prakash, principal scientist at the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, says.

“Only then the fish population will remain intact in the region.”

Text and images by K.R. Deepak

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