CHENNAI: When D Sivanandam and his team cast their net into the Bay of Bengal near Devaneri beach on East Coast to catch whitebait (anchovi) fish, little did they know what the sea would gift them. To their surprise, the bay sent back three tonnes of Malabar Trevally (paarai fish).
"This is a bumper prize for my team. A couple of years ago we got a similar catch of another fish species but that was not the same quantity as we got today," Sivanandam said. Raw whitebait fish will fetch them not more than Rs 50 per kilogram, but trevally can get Rs 300 per kilogram.
Sivanandan said he had cast a net near the shore. The practice is a traditional community fishing method called shore fishing or 'karaivalai meenpidippu' in Tamil. It aims to catch schools of fish that come close to the shore for spawning. The nets are cast into the sea around 2am. As per the standard practice, one end of the net is held at the shore while its spread out into the sea by country boats as far as three nautical miles. The fishermen cast the net in a semicircle bringing the other end of the net to the shore. Luck plays an important role in such an operation as does coordination. This time, the fishermen were aware of a big school close to the coast and made the most of the absence of big waves. They could haul in the catch within a couple of hours after the net was cast.
Fishermen who do shore fishing often catch sardines, anchovies, saw, little tunny, trevally and emperor type fishes. The ancient community method ensures that the fish caught is alive and hence tastes better when cooked. Popular in the coastal areas such as Tuticorin and Ramanathapuram districts, shore fishing is done between December and April.
Although profitable, shore fishing affects coral reefs. "Shore fishing will affect the spawning and will also deplete the fish in sea", former director of Zoological Survey of India K Venkataraman said.
South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association president K Bharathi said mechanised boats were banned from trawling and using gill nets within five nautical miles from the shore. "But fishermen using catamaran or other smaller boats can fish near the shoreline," he said.