In a move that will bring cheer among the fishing community, the State government is fast tracking a proposal to build a standalone ‘Tuna Fishing Harbour’ at Tiruvottriyur Kuppam, near Ennore here, with a net fish handling capacity of 69,000 tonnes per annum.
Department of Fisheries, which is executing the flagship project, has already obtained Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) approval and is awaiting State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) clearance before commencing the work. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board conducted the public hearing a few weeks back.
Fisheries Commissioner GS Sameeran told Express that the proposed harbour was a flagship project of the State government intended to create exclusive facilities for better tuna catching and processing. “The facility is intended principally to ease out the congested Chennai fishing harbour as it is overflowing with more traffic and fishing activities. At times, there is an acute shortage of space to land the boats inside the harbour. The proposed harbour will be about 3.5 km north of Chennai fishing harbour which will provide location advantage and flexibility in harbour operation and fishing activities.”
He said the department was already in the final stages of taking over the administrative control of Chennai fishing harbour, which is currently managed by Chennai Port Trust. “Port Trust Board and State government have submitted their concurrence and the file is before the Ministry of Shipping. Once approved, Chennai fishing harbour and proposed tuna fishing harbour can complement each other and pay rich dividends to fishermen of the region.”
As per the Detailed Project Report (DPR), the proposed harbour will have fish handling halls, auction hall, cold storage, ice factory, fuelling station, power-back up centres and dormitory for workers. Water spread areas and the proposed wharf facilities are envisaged with elaborate planning and engineering design to facilitate fishing activities and boat or vessel management for about 300 FRP boats, 300 trawlers and 200 tuna vessels.
At present, from the Chennai fishing harbour about 300 boats operate exclusively to venture deep into Bay of Bengal to catch tuna and bring in about 1,000 tonnes every month.K Bharati, leader of South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association, said the project will usher in growth and prosperity of fishermen. First level budgetary estimation for establishing the proposed tuna harbour is Rs 241.42 crore. Deep sea ‘tuna’ fishing is the future
Tamil Nadu government is making conscious attempts to enhance harbour facilities and promote deep sea tuna catching and processing, as this is seen as solution to fishermen’s problems.As per estimates, fishery resource potential of oceanic tuna in Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is 2,13,000 tonnes. Method of fishing and hygienic on-board handling of tuna are the major criteria to maintain its quality for export market, yielding high returns for catchers. The basic cold storage facility of deep sea fishing vessels presently operating from Tamil Nadu is inadequate to meet the export quality.
Moreover, there are no shore infrastructure facilities such as chilled receiving stations with temperature controlled duct for receiving tuna from the fishing vessels, pre-processing and freezing facilities to maintain the cold chain to handle the high-valued deep sea catches, thereby posing a major concern when it comes to exporting.Sameeran said the proposed tuna harbour will bridge this logistic gap.
Driving a change in Palk Bay
Johny tom Varghese, Project Director-Palk Bay and Additional Director of Fisheries, told Express that Tamil Nadu was pioneering the deep sea fishing market with special scheme that has a central assistance component. “We are executing a Rs 1,600-cr scheme to convert trawlers in Palk Bay to deep sea long liners and facilitate efficient deep sea fishing market, build state-of-the-art vessels and reduce Indo-Sri Lankan fishing conflict.”
He said seven tuna long liners have already been built by Cochin Shipyard Limited and out in the sea. “Work is in progress for 33 more vessels in 20 boat building yards, which are empanelled specifically for this project. Eight firms are also empanelled for the supply of components such as marine engine, refrigerated sea water system and refrigerated fish hold for deep sea fishing vessels.”
Presently, there are around 3,600 mechanised boats engaged in trawling in Palk Bay districts of Ramanathapuram, Thanjavur, Pudukottai and Nagapatinam with approximately 80,000 fishermen directly dependent on fishing for their livelihood. Fishing by trawling is considered to be an unsustainable and unviable practice and the continuous trawling operations in the narrow and enclosed water mass of Palk Bay has caused depletion of its precious living resources.
To provide suitable berthing facilities for deep sea fishing boats and reduce fishing pressure in Palk Bay, construction of a fishing harbour at Mookaiyur, a deep sea fishing infrastructure facility at Kunthukal in Ramanathapuram and construction of a fishing harbour at Poompuhar in Nagapattinam were undertaken. Out of these, Mookaiyur and Poompuhar facilities are completed and operational.
Lessons from failure
ME Raghupathy, one of first few fishermen from Chennai who tried deep sea long lining, said the department and government should follow what they promise on paper. “Three years ago, seven of us have availed ourselves of bank loans and built tuna long liners only to suffer heavy losses. The reason being non-availability of skilled workforce, who can go on 21 day voyage and operate on-board machinery. We paid Rs 25 lakh for refrigerated sea water system and cold room, but they became defunct due to poor quality and handling. I tried for two years and now have converted vessels to gillnet.”
Deep sea fishing vs Trawling
Generally, deep sea fishing voyages last 10 to 15 days based on fish yield. Taking this into consideration, deep sea goers will complete 18 - 20 voyages per year, excluding ban period (61 days).
Among the 20 voyages, 14 voyages are considered as effective period. By analysing catch details versus expenses, boat owners may claim around Rs 2 lakh for their share per voyage. Accordingly, owners may expect Rs 25 lakh as a profit in deep sea fishing vessels per annum.
In comparison, trawling fishing methods last a day or below 24 hours. Considering the 10 month fishing practices, excluding ban period (61 days), trawlers may avail 120 voyages per year. Of these, 70 are taken as effective voyage period, considering the weather warning, rough season, fishermen holidays, etc. By analysing the catch details versus expenses, boat owners may claim around Rs 5000 for their share per voyage. Accordingly, owners may expect Rs 3.5 lakh as profit through trawling fishing practices per year.