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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

‘We are asking for what is the right of the fishing community’: Devendra Tandel

"The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market is like the agriculture produce marketing committee (APMC) of the fish trade. It is the biggest collection, distribution and retail centre," said Tandel.

Written by Sanjana Bhalerao | Mumbai |
Updated: August 29, 2021 8:09:31 pm
vendors, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market, Mumbai, Airoli, Navi Mumbai, Crawford Market, indian express, indian express newspresident of Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti. (Express Photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

Devendra Tandel, 40, the newly appointed president of Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, speaks to SANJANA BHALERAO about the recent protests by the fishermen community over shifting of their market outside the city, and the problems they face like the depleting fish catch.

Why is the union opposing the shifting of fish vendors from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market in south Mumbai to Airoli in Navi Mumbai and Crawford Market?

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market is like the agriculture produce marketing committee (APMC) of the fish trade. It is the biggest collection, distribution and retail centre. Maximum number of fishermen from Dahanu, Palghar, Mumbai, Ratnagiri and Thane — nearly 80 per cent of catch from these areas are brought to this market. Next in the chain are wholesalers who sell the catch to fisherwomen of 108 fish markets and suppliers to other states from this market.

BMC’s long-term plan is to shift the wholesalers and suppliers to Airoli in Navi Mumbai, which will lead to the collapse of this important link of the fishing industry. And to shift the retailers (fisherwoman) of this market to a basement space in the nearby Crawford Market, sharing the space with a dry fruit zone. The fruit, vegetable and dry fruit sellers have also objected to sharing space with fish retailers as it will affect their client base, which includes vegetarians. The civic body has not provided us with any plan, such as the space reserved for the fishing trade, how many retailers, wholesalers, suppliers, etc.

After BMC vacated the market, from where are the 300 wholesalers, vendors and suppliers operating?

The wholesalers and suppliers are operating out of Airoli market. Because of this, fishermen from Dahanu are severely affected. Their travelling cost and time have increased. To come to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market, they used to leave their residences around 4 am, now they have to start at 1-2 am. Over 30 fisherwomen who are operating out of Airoli are facing stiff competition from the existing retailers and there are routine clashes. Fisherwoman from 108 small markets across Mumbai have to travel to Navi Mumbai to buy the catch from wholesalers. We had asked BMC to shift the entire market nearby, but that has not happened.

What are the community’s demands?

We are asking for what is the right of the fishing community. Originally, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Fish Market was under fish market reservation from 1974 to 2017. This was created on the lines of the APMC market. We want the entire market to be reinstated once the demolition, reconstruction of the building is complete. We want that reservation to be reinstated, this is our primary and non-negotiable demand.

According to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Maharashtra recorded its lowest catch arriving at ports in 45 years. Fishermen have also complained about depletion in fish catch.

The main issue is unsustainable fishing and overfishing. If someone is responsible for this depletion, it is the fisheries department. They have not been able to take action against illegal, unsustainable fishing by large mechanised boats using Purse seine nets that can stretch from 500 metres up to a kilometre. They pull out a large proportion of fish as these nets have a mesh spanning 25mm to 35mm and inadvertently catch the fish and eggs. Traditional fishing methods use bag nets, long lines, gill nets and other practices that capture relatively smaller loads of fish.

As per Dr VS Somwanshi committee report, submissions banned the use of purse seine nets within territorial waters and brought down permits from 494 to 198, stopped issuing new licenses and allowed the use of such nets only between September and December in certain areas along the coast. The law was enacted in 2016. Unfortunately, the number of trawlers using these fishing methods has tripled and no action is taken against them.

Your union is planning to request the state government to increase the fishing ban to 90 days from 60 days. What is the reason?

In the lockdown, one must have seen noticed birds coming back to urban areas. Nature requires time to recharge, heal itself. Traditional fishermen are requesting an increase in the monsoon ban period from two to three months— June, July and August. Fishermen from Gujarat have even asked for four months. The primary purpose of a ban is to augment marine fish production and replenish the dwindling fish stock in the waters.

I also suggest that the fisheries department have a detailed discussion with scientists on the breeding period of different fishes and have a monsoon ban accordingly. For example, the breeding period of pomfret is May, while others start in June. We can have a two-month ban in monsoon, another in January and February. This way we can keep the depleting fish catch in check.

What is the alternate livelihood support for fishermen during the ban period?

The extension of the ban period can only be successful if alternate livelihood support to fishermen is extended by the government. Fishermen can use the boats for tourism purposes, mangrove tours, promoting cage aquaculture. One should understand that after the ban period, the catch available will be high.

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