Open waters run deep for these fishermen

As the Ammankovil Beach sizzled under the afternoon sun, a group of people reunited at a remote shore located on the fringe of Tamil Nadu.

The sight was worth watching as a woman and some men ran towards the only boat that was docking that day. The people on the boat plunged into the water and began to moor their boat towards land.

Their skin glistened as the sea reflected sunlight off their bare backs. Dark sinewy arms were at work as the fishermen spread out their net. The woman grabbed one end and undid the loops. All of them were looking for tiny fish caught in the net.

It wasn’t a great day to catch the bigger fish but they looked content as they chatted and giggled, without looking up from the net.

A family of fishermen and a fish-woman
(Like) fish in the net

The apprentices and younger fishermen worked with an older fisherman who was also the owner of the boat. They were all relatives and after they gathered little figments of the sea, trapped in their nets, they walked inland.

One of them stayed back and looked seawards. He appeared to be waiting, probably for another boat to arrive. Maybe the other boat had had a better day, fishing for more fish.  After a long stare at the open sea, the hopeful fisherman turned back to join the others, from his group.

Although a foamy wave washed away the man’s footprints on the sand, the story of his life and others like him, lingered. The fisherman’s story had an obvious end though. No one became wealthy from catching fish.

A fisherman in Tamil Nadu
Hoping for the plenty

That tiny bit of sea, between Tamil Nadu and the open waters; is a hunting ground for the fisherman and his community.  But the oceanic territory is not theirs to claim.

The shoreline is a part of other coastal cities where deep-sea fishing depletes the fish near these villages. The fishermen here try to keep up with modern intrusions in their waters but their traditional boats can only do so much.

Some of these anglers have accepted a frugal way of life. Even though the local waters don’t have much aquatic fauna, the fishermen here claim to be happy with anything that gets trapped in their nets. Crabs, shrimp and squids often come back to shore in their nets and the Ammankovil fishermen believe this to be plenty for their sustenance; at least for a day.

Boat in Tamil Nadu
What they see is the sea

A few people from the fishing community have given up fishing entirely. They now take tourists out to the sea, for handsome sum of money. Others rely on squids and crustaceans to feed the local population which has acclimatized to a variety of seafood.

The locals here may have advanced their palates to suit the variety that these boatmen bring. However, they lack education or awareness to help their local fishing community.

Across the Ramnad district, nearby markets are united under the hegemony of capitalists.

Foreign investment motivates people to breed freshwater fish. Some business people who don’t take part in aquaculture, buy fish from bigger cities and urban trawler-boats .

Sail boat in Tamil Nadu
Sailing away, traditionally

The fishing community of the Ammankovil beach unassumingly go about their day, rowing their traditional boats. People among them who are aware don’t seem to care about the dilemma on land, as well as the sea. Most fishermen claim to make use of traditional skills to haul and trap the fishes better than modern fishing methods.

Little do they know that just like the little fish caught unassumingly in their nets, the people of Tamil Nadu’s tiny fishing village, are the ones caught in the net too. A net that not only traps these fishermen but strangles their very purpose.

 

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