Kochi: Kerala fishermen, who got back to the sea after a 47-day seasonal ban on trawler fishing that ended on 31 July, are facing a critical shortage of ice with which to preserve their catch.
They are therefore reduced to selling their catch at rockbottom prices at a time considered prime season for marine exports.
Frequent power cuts at the state’s 220 ice-making units have forced several others to stop operations or work below capacity.
Hard times: A fisherman with his catch. The shortage has hit smaller fishermen hard as ice units prefer catering to large mechanized boats. Babu/Reuters
The shortage has pushed up the price of ice blocks—necessary to preserve the catch and get better prices—to Rs2,000 a tonne from about Rs800 a tonne a year earlier.
“The 25% power cut for high-tension freezing units and the additional charge of Rs12 per unit levied by the Kerala State Electricity Board for excess power consumed have hit ice manufacturers hard,” said N.K. Ahmed Kutty, chairman of the seafood co-operatives coordination committee and former president of the Kerala Ice Manufacturers’ Association.
“The August to October period is the main season for marine exports,” said K.G. Lawrance, president of Kerala region, Seafood Exporters Association. “Nearly 50% of our exports take place during this time.”
The wholesale price of squids has dropped to Rs50 a kg from about Rs150 a kg less than a month ago, Lawrance said.
Mackrel, priced at Rs90-100 a kg a month ago, now sells for Rs45-50 per kg, while the price of sardines has fallen to Rs25-30 per kg from about Rs45-50 a kg earlier, he added.
Marine stock on India’s west coast are replenished during the ban on trawler fishing and thus, make for great fishing just after the restriction ends.
The ice shortage has hit the smaller fishermen harder. According to Joseph Kalapurrakkal, president of the Kerala Fishing Boat Operators’ Association, several ice-making factories prefer to cater to large mechanized boats that stay at sea for at least a week for fishing, as these vessels need larger quantities of ice to preserve their catch. This leaves owners of smaller boats and country craft used for fishing reluctant to venture into the sea, he said.