In Mumbai, one man’s mission to put fish back into the sea - Hindustan Times
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In Mumbai, one man’s mission to put fish back into the sea

Hindustan Times | ByNatasha Rego
Nov 23, 2020 03:53 PM IST

Kapil Jani has a day job. But he’s spending most of his free time ensuring that the fish accidentally caught in fishermen’s nets don’t die when they’re offloaded on the beach.

When Kapil Jani, 31, goes for his run at Juhu beach in Mumbai every other day, he keeps an eye on the fishing nets. If they’re blue, he keeps running. If they’re white, he has to stop.

Jani is looking to scale up his operation with more volunteers, so that more of the fish trapped accidentally in the fishing nets but of no use to the fisherfolk, can be released.(Courtesy Kapil Jani)
Jani is looking to scale up his operation with more volunteers, so that more of the fish trapped accidentally in the fishing nets but of no use to the fisherfolk, can be released.(Courtesy Kapil Jani)

The blue nets are smaller and designed to catch baby shrimp. The bigger white nets, held vertically, capture larger fish, including tonnes of marine life every year that the fishherfolk can’t sell.

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Jani, having run past as this bycatch was gasping for air on the sand, decided to do something about it. So when the nets are white, he stops, waits, collects up the bycatch as the fisherfolk do their sorting, and releases it back into the ocean.

He’s been doing this on and off, for three years. “It was almost instinctive,” he says. His day job that of environment, health and safety manager for the Essel Group, but in his own time, he’s been an animal rescuer for years. “Birds, insects, bats… when I see something in distress, I go to help,” he says.

In October this year, his solo campaign became a group effort. “One morning I saw that there were hundreds of fish on the beach — octopus, bamboo sharks, pufferfish, moray eels, all dying,” Jani says.

What he was witnessing was a seasonal phenomenon called upwelling. Swapnil Tandel, a marine expert and fishery consultant, explains: “Every winter, as the depths cool, that water rises to the surface, carrying with it a lot of nutrients and attracting sea creatures of all kinds. During this time, the fishermen are also in overdrive, after the monsoon months of no fishing.” Put the two factors together and you have a situation where innocent byswimmers snacking on their nutrients get caught in the nets by the thousands.

“For the Kolis it’s a happy lottery of pomfret, Bombay duck, stingrays, lobster, crabs, cuttlefish, bangda and more. The bycatch is proportionate,” Jani says.

Realising he couldn’t deal with these volumes alone, he reached out to friends, family, conservation groups and NGOs. “Different groups had different ideas on how to deal with this, but all I was looking for was more hands,” Jani says.

The next day, he was working with three buckets and a few friends. “People on the shore also joined in when they saw what we were doing. We worked every day for four days,” he says.

Since then, Kapil and his handful of volunteers have become regulars on the shore here. They have a WhatsApp group where they coordinate their visits to the beach and discuss what was observed and done each day.

The reality is that there are policy-level changes needed, but in the meanwhile, every bit helps, Tandel says. Jani has his eye on the immediate and is looking to scale up his effort.

“My hope is that by this time next year we will have enough people stretched across whatever shores are left in Mumbai, given all the coastal road work, operating in tandem with the Koli community,” he says. “As they work, we’ll start scooping and putting all the fish they don’t want back in the sea.”

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