Traditional fishing: An expensive means of livelihood

Xitt, kodi, nustem (rice, curry, fish) was once upon a time Goa’s staple diet, a key ingredient being fresh fish served on a platter. Today, the tradition continues, but the resources are becoming scarce

Traditionally, fishing forms a core part of Goa’s identity and acts as a source of income and livelihoods; especially for people living in the coastal regions of Goa. It has been a familial occupation being passed down from one generation to another, contributing 26% of the state’s total fish landings. An estimated population of 12,000 fishermen is active from the overall 30,000 population of the fishing communities across Goa. Thus, the fisheries industry plays a critical role in the socio-economical development of the state.
Under the Goa Marine Fishing Regulation Act of 1980, the Government of Goa imposes an annual fishing ban of two months to preserve the marine biodiversity, while attempting to promote sustainable fishing practices. This includes prohibition on fishing vessels with mechanical propulsion from operating during this period. At the same time, through the Department of Fisheries, the Government of Goa also provides a diverse range of financial assistance for various needs of the local fishermen. From construction/ purchase of fishing vessels (canoes), to purchase of nets and accessories, from insulated boxes to store the fish to life jackets for the personnel, to the purchase of fuel (petrol) for out board motor, the Department has outlined every subsidiary in detail on their website as well as in the Citizen’s Charter issued in 2021.

A fight of plight
With the motive of establishing a ‘Blue Revolution’ leading to the overall sustainable development of the fisheries sector, one of the largest investments in the fisheries sector made by the Government of India, is the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). Launched with an estimated investment of `20,050 crores from FY 2020-21 to FY 2024-25, this comprises central, state as well as beneficiaries share.
While budgets like these are being implemented, the Goan fishermen struggle with basics. The introduction of technologically advanced vessels such as purse seines and trawlers has hampered the traditional fishermen’s activities in the coastal areas. Traditional fishermen have to invest in fuel and undergo several hours of hardships to cast their nets, but the catch barely matches up to the cost of expenses! Sometimes, the boats are stuck due to unpredictable weather and climate changes and sometimes, the boats get overpowered by the bigger trawlers invading their space.
In an appeal to the media persons, All Goa Fishing Boat Owners’ Association President Jose Philip D’Souza, highlighted the difficulties experienced by the boat owners. The Kharewaddo jetty in Vasco has been waiting for an extension for decades now. Due to the lack of space, there are challenges while unloading the catch and the boats end up crashing against each other. Frustrated with the cost of repairs amounting to be much more than the catch, multiple small boat owners have stopped venturing out in the seas and have discontinued their businesses.

The will to carry on is chipping away
Be it the neglected and deteriorating conditions of the fishing jetties or the government discontinuing the VAT reimbursement on diesel fuel, boat owners have now reached their wits end and have resolved to fight for their rights until their demands for improved infrastructure and subsidies are met.
Adding to the existing woes, there have been subsidies pending from the previous years that have not been cleared by the government either. Goan fisherfolk continue to struggle while their ilk in neighbouring states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra receive adequate support from their respective governments, D’Souza laments.
Also commenting on this situation, a traditional fisherman based in Benaulim, Pele Fernandes said “We have to not only go through a lot of hard work, but also, through a lot of paper work, to get work done! Yes, the government is providing subsidies for net, canoe, engine, fuel, equipment, life jacket and even ice boxes. But the amount is barely anything. And a lot of people are not applying due to the cumbersome process of running around that a person has to do. The bigger boats are also getting much more! Also, currently, just to apply for a fishing licence, there is so much wait and delay. There has to at least be a single window with easier processes so that more people can avail.”
According to D’Souza, appeals have been made and assurances have been given, but no action has been taken. At this rate if the traditional fisherfolk continue to struggle in making the ends meet, the bigger players will overpower the generational livelihoods and the state will lose out on a crucial aspect of Goa’s culture.

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