Aviral Mishra, OP
Bhubaneswar: While 2020 has begun with hopes for many, it’s a gloomy start of the year for the 36-year old fisherman Kubera Behera, as he is succumbed to work for months on a shipping vessel in Maharashtra despite fishing season at his place.
Owing to reduced volume and size of fishes in last five years which is fetching low incomes, Kubera, just like many other fishermen from his community in Gunadalba village, Puri, he has succumbed to the need to migrate to other coastal states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to make ends meet.
According to different fishing unions across the state, the average weight of spotted seer fish which weighed over 10 kg earlier has come down to about 5 kg in last five years. These fishes are sold at Rs. 800 per kg and are of high economical value for fishers. Similarly, eel, that were earlier 7 to 8 foot-long, have come down to 3 to 4 feet. “While the width of ribbon fish his reduced from 4 inches to 2 inches. Catch of sardine is also hard to come by,” lamented Suranjan Panda a fisherman from Ganjam.
While a number of factors are said to be involved in the reduced size of the fishes, environmentalists and marine biologists have strongly suggested climate change as a major cause contributing to the transformation in the volume and lengths of the fishes.
“The state of Odisha is largely known to consume a large number of locally produced freshwater fishes such as Rohu and Catla— also called Carp fishes. While a large number of fishes have a specific period in a year for breeding many others require temperatures of 27-30 degrees for their optimum growth. Overfishing or rise in temperatures can severely affect their structures which might be the reason for this change,” explained Praveen Adityan, a marine biologist here.
The state, last year, had recorded temperatures as high as 45 degrees during summers. The India Meterological Department (IMD) had issued heat wave warning to at least 10 districts in June. This time of the month is also said to be the breeding duration for many of the freshwater fishes and experts believe that any temperatures beyond 40 degrees can dry up the eggs which may result in stunted or no production at all.
Moreover, fish farmers in the state are also in dire straits with this change. With Odisha having immense demand for the freshwater fishes, large numbers of fish farmers have taken to pisciculture as their source of livelihood.
“Indian major carps – rohu, catla, mrigal are seasonal breeders and they breed only during monsoon (June-August) throughout the country. These are water dependent monsoon fishes that fetch up to Rs 1 lakh for a fish farmer. Thus any sort climate anomalies like scanty rainfall or higher temperatures can severely affect their production,” said Simran Nandi, Principal Scientist at Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA) here.
With about 6.79 lakh Hectares of freshwater resources, 4.18 lakh hectares of brackish water resources Odisha has a huge potential to offer in terms of fish trade. Official reports suggest that the state had produced about 693 thousand metric tons of fish during financial year 2018 with about 40,000 metric tons of carps exported to neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh. Thus, migration by fishers at this time has come as surprise to many.
“Fishing is a major activity during September to February yet about 14,000 fishermen from Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore have migrated outside Odisha searching for employment on fishing vessels in other coastal states. If this isn’t looked into urgently, the state may witness even greater rates of migration in coming years,” said Odisha Marine Resource Conservation Consortium coordinator, Mangaraj Panda.
Although the Central government had imposed a complete ban on fishing in Odisha’s coastal areas for two months earlier from April last year to conserve fish stock during the breeding season, experts said that the rising temperatures are a bigger threat.
“Our studies show that under a high-emission scenario, the state is projected to experience a 3.32 degrees Celsius rise in average summer temperature from 28.87 degrees C in 2010 to 32.19 degrees C by 2100. This is higher than the national average increase from about 24 degrees C to about 28 degrees C by the end of the century,” said Michael Greenstone, Director at the Tata Centre for Development at Chicago.