Posts Tagged ‘fishing’

Chinese fishing net in Cochin, Kerala

Chinese fishing net in Cochin, Kerala



At first glance they look like trebuchets, slingshots the size of a house that were used before the days of gunpowder to launch boulders over medieval city walls. Hardly meant for war, the Chinese fishing nets stock the wooden stalls that hug Cochin’s concrete walkway along the Arabian Sea. Fishermen here have relied on the large wooden levers to bring in fish, and their source of livelihood, for hundreds of years.

When it’s time to raise the nets and bring in a catch, four men each grab onto a vertically hanging rope and wrench them down toward the ground, their arms moving as fast as a sprinter’s legs. Once the net is up, one of the men runs along the trebuchet, past the stony fringe where land meets sea, and dips a hand net into the bigger one. He keeps his arm steady against the eight or ten hand-sized dancing fish.
After reading so many news stories about the oceans’ fish population rapidly depleting, I had to ask one of the vendors if he noticed less fish coming in. Panjeer, whose display sported the small silver fish and the pink ones with eyes the size of peacoat buttons, told me that he caught the large fish out at sea, from a canoe-like fishing boat. Only the smaller fish came from the nets on the shore. I asked Panjeer whether or not he was catching less fish than usual, and he nodded as if he’d been asked the question many times before.
His explanation was not that commercial fishing vessels were gobbling up too many fish for them to repopulate themselves. He said that there were less fish after the Tsunami of 2005. It didn’t actually hit the western coast of India, he said, but Cochin was still affected. I was about to mention that I’d read over fishing was the reason that fish supplies are dropping, but instead I thanked him and moved along.
Maybe every story has many truths. Panjeer’s truth is that the Tsunami is to blame for the fish dying out. Another truth is that bad commercial fishing practices are wrecking an important source of food for millions of people. It could be that both are true. Or it could be that Panjeer is simply an uneducated fisherman who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. My instinct is to put more faith in the man who has been fishing for his entire life, who is using a technique that has been used for years. And after all, so long as Panjeer holds his truth to be a fact, then so it is. We have a tendency to find scapegoats for all of our problems–bad corporations are to blame for killing off our piscine food source. But what if it’s not that simple? To complicate things further, what if it is that simple and commercialized fishing is the real reason that Panjeer has less fish to sell?  When not only a tradition that spans generations, but also a truly sustainable way of fishing (the boats they use aren’t even motorized) is at stake, who is it up to to tell Panjeer that maybe his truth is the one that needs to be questioned? 

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