Ban on sea fishing in Odisha causes loss of income to women involved in allied activities

  • Odisha’s 480 km coastline is subject to two types of fishing bans every year; one is a two-month nationwide ban, and the other is a 170-kilometer area for seven months to protect olive ridleys.
  • About 14,000 of the 518,000 fishermen in the state’s coastal villages are receiving compensation for loss of livelihood during the seven-month fishing ban.
  • And women involved in fishing-related activities face economic insecurity due to the ban. Some groups have started looking for alternative professions.
  • Women play a key role in providing income for their families in fishing communities and advocate for their work to be considered as a component in compensation.

Odisha, an eastern coastal state with a 480-kilometer coastline, has imposed two fishing bans every year for more than two decades to protect fish populations and protect vulnerable olive ridley sea turtles.Lepidochelys olivacea).

During the second ban, a one-time compensation is given to the affected families for the financial loss suffered by fishermen at sea. However, women who play an important role in the supply chain, mostly involved in allied work as retailers in local markets, are left on their own.

A double ban for fish and turtle conservation

In accordance with sections 2, 7 and 4 of the Orissa Marine Fisheries Regulation Act (OMFRA), 1982 and the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, two different types of fishing bans are enforced along the coast of Odisha every year. all types of trawlers and mechanized motor boats over 8.5 meters in length.

The first ban is a seasonal nationwide fishing ban that runs from April 15 to June 14 to help fish reproduce. The second is a seven-month ban on turtle conservation in certain areas from November 1 to May 31. Odisha has three turtle nests, Gahirmatha Beach and the mouths of the Rushikulya and Devi rivers, covering a total of 170 kilometers of coastline.

In 2010, the state imposed a seasonal ban on fishing in these areas within 20 kilometers of the sea coast. While Qahirmatha is a declared marine reserve, the other two sites allow only limited artisanal fishing by sail and paddle. Small mechanized and non-motorized fishing boats less than 8.5 meters in length are also permitted.

View of Rishikulya river from Ganjam fort. Odisha has three turtle nests, Gahirmatha Beach and the mouths of the Rushikulya and Devi rivers, covering a total of 170 kilometers of coastline. Photo by Sidsahu/Wikimedia Commons.

For the seven-month ban, the state government is extending a one-time subsistence allowance of Rs. 7500 to the affected fishing families.During the two-month nationwide ban, compensation of Rs. 4500 is given. However, families of fishermen can avail this compensation only after depositing Rs. 1500 each.The remaining amount is Rs. 3000 is divided between the Center and the states. In addition, compensation is given only to one member of the family.

Reduced days of fishing lead to poor socio-economic conditions

According to Marine Fisheries Census 2016, Odisha has 739 marine fishing villages with 5.18 lakh (518,000) fishermen. In 2021-22, 10,228 fishermen were compensated for the two-month ban and 14,178 fishermen were compensated for the seven-month ban during the same period, the Odisha Fisheries and Livestock Development Department’s annual report said.

“The restrictions imposed under the ban particularly affect traditional and small-scale fishing operations by reducing the area available for fishing. Prasanna Behera, state president of Odisha Traditional Fish Workers Union (OTFWU), said the number of fishing days is also reduced, which affects the overall welfare of the fishing families.

Before the ban, the catch ranged between 200 and 1,000 kilograms per day, yielding between Rs. 5000 to Rs. 10,000, according to a 2014 study by researchers at the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture in Odisha. In the 10 years since the ban, the catch has reduced to 25-100 kg, with revenues ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. In the study, 1000 were recorded per day.

According to Beher, the decline in fishing and the associated loss of income has led to a decline in the socio-economic status of fishing communities in the absence of other livelihood alternatives. The most vulnerable people in the communities were women.

Women engage in allied work to earn income

The women of Gokharakuda village of Ganjam region leave the house at six o’clock in the morning to come to the place where fishermen come with their daily catch. Women wait for hours, sometimes until noon.

Fish are auctioned on these sites, but daily prices vary depending on the amount of fish caught and the number of buyers on the site. The best quality fish are mainly bought by the traders, leaving the rest to the women buyers.

After buying fish from the landing, the women separate them. Quality fish are sold in the market, and the next type of fish is washed and dried in salt and sold. dry (dried fish) or used to make pickles.

They cover a 15-kilometer radius either on foot or in shared vehicles to sell their daily catch. The women return home in the evening with a profit of Rs. 250-350 per day. On a good selling day the minimum profit is Rs. 250 is provided. In lean days, as there is no cold storage, they are forced to sell the fish at a low price and earn a paltry Rs. 50-100 per day.

After washing in salt, the fish are left to dry in the sun.  They are then sold as 'sukhua' or dried fish.
Women from the fishing community wash the fish in salt and then dry it in the sun. It is then sold as “sukhua” or dried fish. Photo: Aishwarya Mohanty/Mongabay.

It seems like a routine day for them. But during the ban, they stay at home without any source of income.

None of the 300 families in the village have any land and their income depends entirely on fishing. However, since their village is located at the mouth of the Rushikulya River, fishermen and villagers are prohibited from entering the sea and fishing for seven months of the year.

During the fishing ban period, economic opportunities are deprived

During the fishing ban, most men from coastal villages migrate to other states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh to work, while women, mostly elderly, stay behind to look after school-going children.

“We don’t know what men earn. We can help our family financially with the money we earn. In case of medical emergency, we can provide the money. But we cannot move to other places for work, and we have no other means of livelihood at home,” said 57-year-old M. Adima, a resident of Ganjam district.

Women from the fishing community of Gokurkuda village in the fish drying and processing unit.  About 100 women living in the village are engaged in selling dried fish as a source of income.
Women from the fishing community of Gokurkuda village in the fish drying and processing unit. About 100 women living in the village are engaged in selling dried fish as a source of income. Photo: Aishwarya Mohanty/Mongabay.

Good fishing days provide a minimum income of Rs. 2,500 per month, he earns independently, which comes to Rs. 17,500 in seven months. Adima’s son and daughter-in-law also move to neighboring Andhra Pradesh to look for contract construction jobs, while she stays behind to take care of her three grandchildren.

Women also believe that the lack of income affects their decision-making position in the family, where monthly monetary contributions are important.

“Even if the compensation is given to the families, it hardly covers the income from fishing, let alone our income. When we have money, we can buy our own food and arrange our own medicine. When the income stops, our dependence on the sole earning member of the family increases. This sometimes makes us feel helpless because we can’t support our family,” says worried D. Ilema 63 from Ganja. As part of the government’s widow pension scheme, she gets Rs. 500 per month, his only income during the ban.

About 190 kilometers from Ganjam, in Puri district, an entire business selling dried fish was shut down because the women could not maintain consistency in their work. In the early 2000s, a women’s cooperative was established in Jahaniya village of Astaranga district to dry and sell fish. However, the cooperative could not sustain itself.

Villagers claim that repeated cyclones have already hindered the quantity and quality of fish and affected their income. A seven-month ban reduced it further. “The ban comes into effect when the fishing season is at its peak in winter. The quantity was so reduced that they sold the catch only to traders. So we had no choice but to liquidate the cooperative,” explained Kusum Behera, 38, who was part of the failed cooperative.

Women now cultivate small plots of rice and vegetables, producing enough to feed their families, while men go to sea or migrate to find other work. They have also started volunteering to protect the mangroves near their villages.

Apply for an alternative job

In Nagar village of Puri, near Jahaniya, women have started looking for alternative employment opportunities. Around 700 women in the village who are dependent on various allied jobs related to fishing have now started acquiring new skills to earn their living. Many women have bought sewing machines through Self Help Groups (SHGs), learned basic stitches and now sew coats and blouses. One of the SHGs in the village has now bought a mixer grinder which they use to grind spices.

M Adima with her grandchildren.  He looks after his son and daughter-in-law when they move to work during prohibition.
M Adima with her grandchildren. He looks after his son and daughter-in-law when they move to work during prohibition. Photo: Aishwarya Mohanty/Mongabay.

“We have repeatedly demanded that our work be evaluated and paid for, but it was never taken into account. Women play a key role in bringing income to their families in fishing communities, but our work is not considered a component when it comes to compensation. But we have to maintain our own financial independence as well,” said Tulasi Behera, a 54-year-old resident of Nagar.

Odisha Traditional Fish Workers Secretary K. Alleya said, “We are persistent in our demands to include women, especially those involved in the fishing business in one way or the other, who are affected by the ban, as beneficiaries.” Union (OTFWU).

The State Fisheries Department is considering increasing the compensation amount to Rs. 15,000. “A proposal has been made in this regard. We are looking at increasing the amount of compensation,” said Basant Das, Deputy Director of Fisheries Directorate.

On the inclusion of women, Das added, “Compensation is given to one member of the family, but it includes ancillary activities which are considered a separate component. There is no separate compensation other than the general compensation given.”


Read more: Ganja fishermen unite to take back fish trade from monopoly traders (mongabay.com)


Banner image: Women from the fishing community wash the fish in salt and then dry it in the sun. Then it is sold dry or dried fish. Photo: Aishwarya Mohanty/Mongabay.

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