Maharashtra bans roadside fish stalls, wholesale allowed amid Covid-19 crisis
The Maharashtra fisheries department has banned retail sale of fish at roadside markets in a 43-point standard operating procedure (SOP) for the trade on how to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wholesalers can sell their catch while maintaining social distancing norms but retail fish sale by vendors across markets has been banned until further notice, to avoid crowds.
“Safety of citizens is of utmost importance. The decision is mainly focused on fisherfolk who set up stalls at sections of the market, landing sites or main roads, to avoid overcrowding and chances of community transmission,” said Rajendra Jadhav, joint commissioner, state fisheries department. “It comes as a difficult decision as lots of fisherwomen are employed in such activities across the Konkan but we were left with no option following overcrowding incidents being brought to our notice by the police.”
Fisherfolk have opposed the restrictions. “Fisherwomen across 350 such sites in the Mumbai region will be directly affected due to this decision. No such decision has been taken for vendors selling agricultural produce. We demand that the fisheries department withdraw this SOP,” said Damodar Tandel, president of a fishing group in Mumbai.
While the department has banned retail fish vendors, it has approved door-to-door supply of fish while maintaining social distancing norms.
Other restrictions include medical screening of fishing boat staff and monitoring of boat movement. A committee, chaired by the district collector and with members from the fisheries department , will issue permits based on valid identity proof, health documents, and information of family members, submitted through the Aarogya Setu mobile app.
“This is being done across 91 fish landing sites and three major harbours [two in Mumbai and one in Ratnagiri] functioning currently,” said Jadhav. “A proposal for mandatory thermal testing is in its final stage of approval from the state, and will also commence soon.”
Other rules include social distancing during fishing at sea. “Not more than three people as crew will be allowed for smaller boats or vessels. If any crew member has reported sick or developed any flu-like symptoms, fishing activities need to abandoned and the boat will return to the jetty immediately,” said Jadhav, adding that the fish caught should not be consumed or touched. The catch will be disposed of as per bio-medical waste disposal norms.
“If any crew member tests positive, the entire crew will undergo mandatory isolation for a minimum of 14 days,” said Jadhav. “Overall sanitation, disinfection of boats, wearing masks and gloves under all four scenarios is mandatory.”
According to the National Purse Seine Fishermen Welfare Association (NPSFWA), Maharashtra fishermen have incurred losses over ₹800 crore over a month and had dumped 15,000 tonnes of fresh catch into the sea during the first two weeks of the lockdown.
“The present guidelines are confusing and developed haphazardly. The state needs to first support the market by designing a supply-chain of how fish will be sold before drafting guidelines for fishing. By banning retail vendors, a source of income has been destroyed,” said Ganesh Nakhawa, chairman, NPSFWA, who is developing a supply-chain for door-to-door delivery.
The Centre has also announced that there will be no relaxation for the annual fishing ban along the west coast from June 1 to July 31 – during the breeding season