Andaman & Nicobar Islands Diary: Of fishing and fishermen

Port Bair: I consider my visits to coastal areas incomplete if I return home without experiencing magnificent sunrises and magical sunsets. For me the second most important to-do-task of the coastal tour is interaction with local fishermen and visits to fish markets.

Watching boatmen prepare meticulously for their fishing expedition as well as observing them arrive on the seashore with a boatload of catch in the morning are unique and one of its kind close encounters with the locals.

On Havelock Island fishermen work in two shifts. One group, engaged in fishing during the day on the sea, leaves at 7 am and returns to the shore by 3 pm with their catch. After sorting, the catch is taken to the market. “We do not need an ice box since our catch is sold the same day,” said a fisherman who was ready to sail along with his uncle. They were at the beach since 4.30 am preparing the boat for the launch.
Their diesel engine motorboat had a 15-litre tank, enough fuel for a day trip. “We only average 30-40 kg of fish per day since yields are down,” said one of the fishermen. When asked how far the fishing spot was, he said: “We will reach the fishing spot after a two- and half-hour ride.”

The second lot is of three-man crew boats. They leave around 3 pm with two large size ice boxes and return to the shore after spending two nights on the sea. If the harvest is good, they could be back early. During this fishing trip cooking is done on the boat which leaves with a full tank and a 15 litres reserve of diesel.

Waited couple of hours on the beach for one of the boats to arrive with their catch after two nights on the sea. Watched them anchor the boat and do sorting at a quick pace. Their energy level even after a gruelling 43 hours spent on the sea was seen to be believed. Astonishing it was. They were much more energetic than the well-rested me. They had arrived with about 200 kg mix bag of fish. “We used nets as well as hook lines to net this catch,” said one of them.

In Port Blair visited the famous Mohunpura Fish Market on Phoenix Bay road. Other major fish market of Port Blair is the Junglighat Fish Market. These two markets depend on large fishing trawlers for supplies.
The Mohunpura fish market is next to the main bus terminus of Port Blair which has single-storey air-conditioned waiting halls. The terminus also has a number of charging stations for battery operated state transport buses.

Visited the Sagar Fisheries Multipurpose Cooperative Society’s shed in Mohunpura as well as the Municipal Corporation managed Modern Fish Market, Port Blair Fishermen (SHG) at 5 am. Modern Fish Market is across the municipal corporation’s headquarters in Port Blair.

Both markets double up as wholesale and retail centres and the scene was hectic in both. Fresh catch was being offloaded from trucks and shifted to giant ice boxes. People were also busy cleaning and cutting fish for bulk buyers — restaurants, hotels and institutions.

The municipal market even had a large -18 degrees C to -20 degrees C Chilling Room of Bluestar to stock fish. Space in this chilling room is available on hire. Surprisingly this wet market was quite clean.
Sadly one section of this complex is a living example of the authorities callous attitude. I was taken to this section when I asked the fishermen: “What happens to the waste generated during cutting and cleaning of fish? Is it dumped in the ocean as fish feed?”

Tucked away in the corner of the market was a Rs 4 lakh worth of machine to turn fish waste into compost. According to the fishermen manning stalls there, every year the corporation could easily generate crores worth of compost from fish waste with the help of this machine. But the machine is lying idle since its installation in the complex.

Written complaints to the corporation, headquartered across the market in a grand building, have yielded no response. The cooperative volunteered to operate this machine. Even this proposal has not elicited any response from the corporation.

They narrated a sad incident. Last year a team from Delhi had visited the market. A day before the arrival of the team, the section housing the compost machine was cleaned. During the visit all fishermen were told to stay clear of the visiting team. There was a photo shoot of the compost machine with visitors and corporation officials standing around it. The officials and the visiting team did not even bother to switch on the machine.

Compost generated from fish waste is highly recommended for areca and coconut plantations. It can also be used to nourish other plantations. Alas it is not to be. May be corporation officials make more money through the commission route by ordering such machines. No doubt postings in purchase departments across all government departments as well as the armed forces are the most sought after. Prized postings they are. In this specific case managing waste and turning it into compost may not be so lucrative a task for the corporation officials.

Sharat Sharma

Sharat Sharma is an indefatigable traveller and explorer from Delhi. For Sharat, age is just a number because what matters is the indomitable will to get moving.

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