Photo: Sandeep Wairkar/Public Domain.
The sun was sinking into the sea. Wafting on the sea breeze came a song, the words of which were neither Marathi nor Malvani. The song was being sung by a group of Telugu-speaking fishermen from the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. The beautiful folk music of these fishermen from the east coast seemed strangely out of place amidst the bays and lateritic hills of the west coast. Still, I didn’t think much of it until I found this group of east coast fishermen operating a local mini purse seine vessel, the next morning. My research on fisheries management by fishing communities in Sindhudurg had revealed that purse seine operations in the region were very contentious. Therefore, finding migrant fishermen purse seining in Sindhudurg was quite surprising. The entry of migrants into a livelihood occupation such as fishing could have several undesirable socio-ecological outcomes.
Although introduced several decades earlier, purse seines became popular along the Maharashtra coast in the late 1980s. Purse seining is a mechanised form of fishing wherein the fishing vessels use large inboard engines, as well as hydraulic winches to haul in the net. This contrasts with methods like gill-netting or cast netting, where the vessel may have an outboard motor, but the net is laid and hauled by hand. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) reports that until the 1980s, there were almost no mechanised vessels in Maharashtra, but with their introduction, fish catch increased three-fold. Simultaneously, non-mechanized fishermen experienced severe decline in fish catch. Fishermen began to connect the two most common types of mechanised fishing – that is trawl and purse seine operations – with the falling abundance of fi sh. The backlash was immediate. Sporadic conflict between non-mechanised and mechanised fishermen soon spread across the coast. Trawl fishing was the main target of most of these protests since it was the most widespread form of mechanised fishing in the early 1990s. However,...