Thursday, 16 November 2017

Grey Scale #6: Different rules for different genes

Days after the fishermen crew from Olaikuda hamlet near Rameswaram, were allegedly shot at mid-sea by the personnel of Indian Coast Guard, the State's political system has been shaken with a row of protests and agitations by fishermen associations and Tamil nationalist movements. Having given a political shade to this incident, I tried to harvest the traditional and historical background of the trawling methods of the fishermen of Rameswaram and rest of Tamil Nadu, that is also a major concern that is subjecting them to these cross border troubles. Here are the insights.

Source: Internet
Whenever, any fishermen crew from Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram or Karikkal is arrested or attacked by Sri Lankan Navy mid sea, the first allegation kept on them is that why should they cross the border having a vast ocean here to fish. "The Coromandel coast of India is long and vast. Having such a resource on hands, the fishermen from Tamil Nadu still converge at Palk Bay for fishing where the problem actually arises," said a source from the Fisheries department of Tamil Nadu.

It is said that the Government of India has made a lot of alternatives for the Tamil fishermen to trawl in deep sea.

"Already, the Government of India has set up an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Bay of Bengal, that stretches for 200 nautical miles from the coast of India. It also includes the coast of Andaman and Nicobar Islands,' the source said. The Fisheries department and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) are ready to support the fishermen to trawl in this deep water. 'The fisheries department will be releasing subsidy for the trawlers of Tamil Nadu to fish in EEZs and stay safe from the foreign armed forces," the source added.

The problem is that, the traditional bloodline of the fishermen from the central coast of Tamil Nadu do not have the skill of deep sea fishing say ocean sesearchers and marine archaeologists. "It is not as easy as suggesting. Genetically, the fishermen from Nagapattinam, Karikkal and Ramanathapuram are raised with the skill of shallow water fishing for over 10,000 years. Their skill set is exceptional in catching passing fishes that deep sea fishes," says S Balasubramani aka Orissa Balu, a marine archaeologist and ocean researcher.

Source: Internet
According to Balu, "Deep sea fishing is done only by fishermen from Kanniyakumari that only a from a set of nine fishing hamlets between Thengapattinam and the Kerala border. Not all Tamil fishermen can do deep sea fishing. So, we cannot impose deep sea fishing to a fisherman from Ramanathapuram or Nagapattinam."

Balu also said, the depth of EEZ in Bay of Bengal is about 4000 meters from mean sea level and it is very dangerous. "For a fisherman from Kanniaykumari, their gene has the ability to travel for thousands of miles and so they can go till Iran and the Red Sea for fishing. While, the fishermen from Kodiyakkarai or Dhanushkodi will be an expert in trawling the fishes that pass Palk Bay."

In this particular incident, the fishermen from Rameswaram would have been trawling the passing fishes. "The geographical reason for this is that the ocean currents pass from Kodiyakkarai to Indian Ocean through Palk Bay through which the fishes travel and get caught in their nets. It is their tradition and it is not fair in breaking it. Be it, the Sri Lankan Navy or the Indian Coast Guard, stopping them from their tradition is not right. At the same time, when we ask him to trawl in EEZ, the assurance of fishes getting caught is very minimum for their skill set. For one trip of trawling, he has to spend around Rs 3 lakh which he has to take in returns. Will this be possible is the first question," Balu elaborated and queried.

Same was in the version of the fishermen from the area. When I approached David Arockiyaraj, a fisherman from Rameswaram, and asked why are they not ready to leave their tradition, he said, "Firstly, for us shallow fishing is what we have more feasibility both in terms of our skills and economically as well. Likewise, we have been doing this for thousands of years and this is in our gene."

Source: Internet
When I asked why are they hesitating when other fishermen from the State are fishing in deep waters, he immediately denied and said, 'No Tamil fishermen is fishing in deep waters except for those from some portions of Tirunelveli and Kanniyakumari districts. Also, we can compare the skills of fishermen from one are with the other as it differs with respect to geography and availability of fishes.'

He said that a lot of differences in fishing methods could be witnessed with in very short distances along the coast. "For an instance the method of trawling in Kasimedu is completely different from the practise of fishermen from Nochikupppam which is totally different from the fishing method adopted in Kovalam. With such a huge difference within a matter of 30 kilometers, how can one impose a uniform method for all fishermen of the State which has over 1076 kilometer of coastline," David said.

What is an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ)?

With the adoption of the convention of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) during the 1980's, an International order of economic jurisdiction of 200 nautical miles (1 nm = ~1.85 km) for the coastal states was established. India thus obtained a wide exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of about 2.172-million square kilometers in the sea all along the 7500 km long coastline around its landmass. The living and nonliving resources in this zone, which measures about two-third of the landmass of the country, are exclusive to India, so also the trading and transport facilities navigated through this area.

Source: NIO
Moreover several million people living along the coastline are directly influenced by oceanography of the EEZ, various environmental hazards and related social issues. Hence from geo-scientific angle, the first thing needed for India is to comprehensively map the entire EEZ, and to start with, detailed swath bathymetry map with near-complete coverage needs to be prepared.

Following this, the EEZ was used by India for various economic activities like oil drilling, mining and petroleum and methane extraction. According to the website of the National Institute of Oceanography, the second round of activities should focus on to understand the natural processes that have been active in EEZ through systematic scientific research, this includes, study of ocean currents and climate change. While, demarcation and sustainable exploitation of non-living resources of this zone could form the third set of activities. Petroleum mining comes under this third set.

Depth of trawling by TN fishermen
Kasimedu: 200 to 250 metres
Nochikuppam: 150 to 200 metres
Vailankanni: 300 metres
Nagapattinam: 300 to 400 metres
Ramanathapuram: 100 metres
Keezhakarai: 500 to 1,000 metres
Thengapattinam: 1,000 to 1,500 metres
Colachel: 500 to 1,000 metres

Source: Various fishermen and ocean researchers

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, November 16, 2017.

This article is an extension to my previous article under Third Law column of my blog. The main article was written based on the alleged attack on Tamil fishermen by Indian Coast Guard on November 13, 2017. To read the main article click here.

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