Till December last year, Mahesh Mhatre, 42, a fisherman from Kalamb village in Vasai was disappointed with the low returns that lobster fishing yielded.
The delicious seafood fetches high prices in international markets, but exporters were rejecting the catch from Kalamb as the lobsters were undersized, weighing only up to 50gm. Selling the baby lobsters in local markets earned him a meagre Rs100 – Rs150 per kg. Besides, over-fishing of egg-bearing females had also reduced the catch.
Looking at the tremendous fall in annual landing of lobsters in the state (600 tonnes to 100 tonnes in the last decade), the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) started a pilot project in Kalamb called – open sea lobster culture.
The four-month project that started in January proved to be a success. “Around 200 juvenile lobsters rejected by exporters were stocked in cages made of GI pipes and nylon netting. They were fed with fingerlings over four months to make them healthier. The project was cost effective and this cage can be used for the next three years at least,” said Mhatre.
The project yielded Mhatre a healthier catch as the lobsters now weighed 200gm to 250gm and fetched him a price of Rs1,200 to Rs1,500 per kg. Mhatre’s gross earning at the end of the project was around Rs 15,000 to Rs 20, 000.
CMFRI provided Mhatre the cage that cost Rs12,000, along with technical aid.
“The coast around Vasai is known for high quality lobsters. But the rise in mechanised trawlers has led to over fishing. The female lobsters come near the shore while breeding and get caught,” said Dr Vinay Deshmukh, scientist in-charge, CMFRI.“One female lay 2 to 4 lakh eggs so the losses are huge. The state is losing more than 10 crore per year.”
According to official data, the national catch of lobsters has fallen from 2,631 tonnes in 1996 to 1,872 tonnes in 2009.
Other fishermen have also come forward to try out the cage culture. “If the government provides us the cages, it will earn us a decent amount,” said Bhushan Mhatre, a fisherman.
With the help of State Fisheries department, CMFRI plans to provide 15 more cages to in Thane.