Fishing for the Future
Fishermen along India’s western coast are now using square mesh nets and practicing sustainable marine fishing. It is earning them higher incomes, protecting marine biodiversity and paving the way for policy change in one of the country’s most important fishing coastlines.
As the first rays of the sun began to brighten the skies of Malvan, one could spot the faint outlines of a trawler against the tangerine backdrop. The day had just begun, but the seafarers had already ventured deep into the treacherous seas. As the trawler braved its way through the choppy seas, Shelestian Fernandes stood tall on the deck, overlooking the sea, narrating his story as a fisherman. “The times were much tougher when I had a smaller boat,” he said. Today he is the owner of a trawler, a reliable crew and several fishing gadgets which has made his job easier.
- India is the second largest producer of fish in the world, employing over 14 million people in fishing and aquaculture.
- Partnership with the Government of Maharashtra, aims to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation of coastal areas and sustainable livelihoods can go hand in hand.
- The partnership brought in technical expertise from the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, introducing the square mesh net in the cod end of trawl gears in Sindhudurg.
- Over 300 trawlers have already adopted more sustainable fishing practices like use of square mesh nets.
- The new technology has significantly increased the monthly income of fisherfolk because of diesel has declined.
- Maharashtra’s Fisheries Department has now issued an order proposing the mandatory use of square mesh nets for all 17,000 trawlers in the region.
Within 12 fathoms of the shore, the trawler began to slow down, and the crew cast the net into the water. The net was then spread out on the deck for the crew to have a good look at the catch for the day. They rejoiced at the catch, especially the Silver Pomfret, which was the coveted prize for the day. The distinctive feature about the catch was that every single fish was big and of a marketable size, with not a single juvenile or baby fish in sight. “We owe it to the square mesh net,” they said, “for sparing the juvenile fish for later when they are worth more than what they are now.”
The square mesh net was introduced in Sindhudurg region through a partnership between the Government of Maharashtra and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which aims to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation of coastal areas and sustainable livelihoods can go hand in hand. The partnership is supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The partnership brought in technical expertise from the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, working closely with local fisherfolk to introduce the square mesh net in the cod end of trawl gears in Sindhudurg. Met with initial skepticism in this important fish landing centre, the initiative has gone a long way in becoming something that fishermen have embraced in their journey to sustainable marine fishing. Since 2015, every trawler in the district now uses square mesh nets.
"Ever since we started using the square mesh net after trials last year, we have been able to reduce diesel cost because of the reduced drag on the nets. Fish catch is on the decline and we hope that this new net will help boost fish reserves," says Sharad Dhuri, a pioneer in his community. He was one of the first fishermen to use a square mesh net on his trawler. "With the older nets, we used to find a lot of juvenile fish in the catch, and we would release them later but they would die. It wasn't good for us or the environment" he added.
India is the second largest producer of fish in the world, employing over 14 million people in fishing and aquaculture. Increasing pressure on fish stocks, overcrowding of boats, pollution, degradation of habitats and destructive fishing practices threaten the ecosystem and livelihoods of millions.
Nearly 70 percent of by-catch i.e. unwanted fish collected by fishing vessels is typically discarded to make way for commercially-important fish species. However, the ability of our seas to replenish depends on the survival of this juvenile fish. When traditional diamond-shaped nets are in water, the gaps in the nets compress, leaving little room for smaller fish to escape. However, the square shaped mesh retains its shape in the water and juvenile fish below a certain size can escape through the gap in the nets.
The advantages to fisherman are numerous. Shelestian Fernandes says, “The new technology has increased my income by INR 10,000 (US$152) each month because diesel consumption has declined.” On an average catch of 18 kgs, it is estimated that the square mesh allows over 3 kgs of juvenile fish and other aquatic mammals to escape, important for the survival of the seas.
"At first, we were worried that the new nets would exclude big fish and our catch would decline but during the trials we saw how it worked" Harshal, a local fisherman, said. The nets are gaining popularity and net makers in the region are now being trained to stich square mesh nets for use by fishing trawlers along the state.
Witnessing the movement underway in Sindhudurg where over 300 trawlers have adopted more sustainable fishing practices, Maharashtra’s Fisheries Department has now issued an order proposing the mandatory use of square mesh nets for all 17,000 trawlers in the region.
Photos: Dhiraj Singh/UNDP India