Die-hard fish lovers in Mumbai, brace yourselves for hard times: your local vendor may run out of supplies soon. From Jan 18, fishermen have been gradually steering clear of the seas in the wake of what they feel is an unfair hike in diesel prices for commercial consumers, a dwindling fish population already having discouraged them.
While Sassoon dock usually draws a haul of 200 tonnes of fish on a daily basis, the same dock now receives hardly 10-20 tonnes a day, given a wide berth by many fishermen. In fact, over the past few days almost 80 per cent of the usual boats and trawlers are off the seas and anchored firmly near the shores, as fishermen have bundled up their nets and decided not to venture into the waters till the union petroleum minister relaxes the rule that requires every bulk consumer of diesel who buys more than 2,000 litres per day to shell out higher prices for the same.
At Sassoon dock alone, almost 650 of the usual 800 boats are now giving the salty waters a wide berth. A delegation of fishermen plans to meet the prime minister and the union petroleum minister today in the Capital, where they will be requesting that diesel is sold to them at regular consumer rates. In comparison to Rs 43 they paid for every litre earlier, they now have to shell out Rs 54.62 per litre, a whopping Rs 11.62hike.
Damodar Tandel, president of the Akhil Maharashtra Macchimaar Kruti Samiti, (also a member of Boat Owners Association) spoke out about the woes of the fishing community. “Increase in diesel prices has become a main issue for us. Our association held a meeting where we decided that if government doesn’t consider our needs, we will stop venturing into the sea.”
Addressing the additional problem of the dwindling numbers of fish in the sea, he said, “There are about 1,100 trawlers that function illegally; fishing nets which are banned all across the world are used by them, resulting in a shortage of fish, which affects our business. For a 10-day long fishing trip, the expenditure is about Rs 1.5-2 lakh. We have to carry 2,000 to 2,500 litres of diesel, which is unaffordable at the current rate.”
Damodar added, “Climate change has compelled fish to go deep into the sea, making us lose out on our daily catch. This is also resulting in the scarcity and price hike. After Makar Sankranti each year, the season is good for tarli (sardines), surmai (seer), jhinga (prawns).
But this is the first time that even these regular varieties have become hard to come by, even after venturing 50 to 60 nautical miles deep into the sea.” The fishermen spend a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh for every fishing trip — for the boat, 2,000 litres of diesel, as well as 12-13 tonnes of ice to keep the fish fresh and preserve food for the fishermen. The haul of a few tonnes of fish usually rakes in Rs 2 lakh, a poor margin of profit when compared to the labour put in.
Fishermen are now selling stocked fish and fresh daily supplies are at the mercy of the 20 per cent of boats that are still venturing into the sea. But if their demands are not met after the meeting, several fishermen’s associations would continue to strike.
Vijay Worlikar, vice-president of the National Association of Fishermen and Maharashtra Koli Mahasangh, said, “We are tired of this behaviour from the government. There needs to be some explanation for this diesel hike; it is practically impossible for us to buy diesel at this rate. If things continue like this we will stop fishing.
We will go on strike and protest on the streets, as these policies are harming our business. We stay in the seawater for days and for that we need diesel. The entire industry will be affected, as people will stop eating fish if the rates of fish are so high. This in turn will decrease our profits.”
The paucity of supply is already palpable to vendors. Ranjana Mali, fish vendor from Parel, said, “We used to get 40 kg of fish to buy earlier, but because of the hiked prices and shortage of fish we are getting only 10 kg.
There are even fewer takers in the market, it has become a tough job for us to sell.” Imtiaz Patel, manager of Modern Lunch Home in Byculla, said, “We are buying fish at higher rates now, but we have not increased the rates yet, as it is a tedious affair to make changes on menu cards once they are printed. Surmai, which we used to get earlier for Rs 300 a kg, is now being sold for more than Rs 500.”
11,000 The number of mechanised fishing boats that run on diesel in the state
Rs 2 cr Amount of revenue generated in the city everyday through export and sale of fish
20 Tonnes of fish Sassoon Dock is receiving daily, down from 200 tonnes it used to get earlier
650 Number of fishing boats, out of 800, that are stuck
on shore at Sassoon Dock
Rs 1.5 lakh Amount fishermen spend on each fishing trip, including diesel, ice and food
— Inputs: Urvashi Seth