Fishermen in Sindhudurg have found a way to save thousands of rupees each month while saving lakhs of baby fish and other marine wildlife.
The Maharashtra government and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) came up with the idea of square mesh nets instead of traditional diamond mesh nets to prevent damage to the ecosystem and to make fishing sustainable. Under a programme funded by Global Environment Facility, the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology experimented with the square mesh nets in trawlers to see if it reduced by-catch or the trapping of baby fish and other marine wildlife that are not commercially important to fishermen.
Usually, by-catch accounts for about 5% of a fisherman’s daily catch. And even though it may not appear to account for much economically, it includes commercially important fish species such as squids, croakers, thread fin breams and scads. If these fish had reached maturity, they could have added to the fishermen’s profit and helped in maintaining an ecological balance.
“By-catch harms marine ecology as thousands of marine animals are killed before they can mature and reproduce, leading to a reduction in their population,” said Sneha Pillai, a member of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that has been helping in making fishing sustainable.
During trials, the fishermen discovered that when the traditional diamond-shaped nets are in water, the gaps in the nets compressed, leaving little room for smaller fish to escape. But the square shaped mesh retained its shape under water and juvenile fish that are less than 10 centimetres long, escaped through the gap in the nets.
On an average catch of 18 kilogram, it is estimated that the square mesh nets allow over three kilogram of juvenile fish to escape, making marine fishing sustainable.
For 50-year-old Shelestian Fernandes from Malvan — who has been a fisherman for over two decades — the square mesh nets do more than saving baby fish. It saves him around Rs20,000 per month. As the weight of the catch reduced, Fernandes ended up saving almost 10 litres of fuel every day. Another fisherman Dada Dhuri, 53, said, “The new nets have helped me save about Rs10,000 each month because my trawler uses lesser amount of diesel now.” He has also been spreading awareness about square mesh nets among other fishermen.
Encouraged by the results, about 317 trawlers in the area have adopted the square mesh nets. Also, the district planning and development council released Rs19 lakh so that more fishermen get access to these nets. Recently, Maharashtra’s fisheries department issued an order proposing the mandatory use of square mesh nets for about 17,000 trawlers in the region.