How these Kerala fishermen are proving that using square mesh codends contributes to sustainable fishing
A Vypeen boat operator in Kochi is leading the charge in popularizing the method that has proven effective in reducing the catch of juvenile fish
At a time of deepening concerns and intensifying talk of how to get out of the corner the fishing industry has painted itself in, a lone Vypeen fishing boat operator has shown courage to plunge into what initially seemed like a sea of uncertainty.
NS Suresh is now encouraging more trawlers to switch to square mesh codends instead of traditional chain mesh codends. A codend is the tapered end of the trawl where fish are aggregated as the net is dragged through the waters and brought up.
Square-mesh codends, with which experiments began in Kerala in the mid-1990s under the aegis of ICAR-Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), allow juveniles to escape in addition large numbers when the net is pulled through the waters and pulled as the mesh shape does not change or tighten. However, diamond meshes shrink considerably during trawling and prevent juveniles from escaping, says a CIFT scientist, explaining the advantages of the square-mesh variety. Although the experiments started in Kerala, Gujarat was the first state to legalize square mesh codends in 2003.
It was in August last year that a group of scientists approached Mr Suresh with a suggestion to try the new codend. “It was a tough choice,” says Suresh, who recalls his workers initially resisting the idea for fear of a drop in catches. But Mr. Suresh showed bravery and persuaded them to stick with the new type. It was shrimp season and the apprehensions were palpable.
It turned out that the first venture was a total failure. However, it was not the failure of the new codend as other boats too were seen returning virtually empty-handed. The experience shook the workers’ confidence, but they still agreed to go ahead with the new equipment.
They left on the second voyage and returned with rich spoils. They were surprised when they compared the size of their boat’s shrimp with that of others. Shrimp caught in the square mesh codends were relatively larger and fetched a slightly higher price than those from other vessels. The experience has since cemented Mr. Suresh’s confidence.
Better fuel economy
He points out that deploying square-mesh codends also reduces boat drag, saving 1.5 to 2 liters of diesel per hour of fishing. “We’re able to cover more water using less fuel,” he says.
The assessment of square mesh codends was made possible through the support of In Transition to Marine Stewardship Council, London, executed by WWF India.
The new code ends is an answer, at least in part, to the juvenile capture problem. While the bulk of juveniles are trapped accidentally, there are cases of fishermen exclusively trying to catch juveniles forced both by a drought of fish and the increasing demand for juveniles from fishmeal factories.
The capture of juveniles results in insufficient stocks to survive, grow and spawn, a great threat to long-term sustainability. The situation prompted scientists at the ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute to propose a minimum legal size (MLS) for commercially important species to be caught and retained.
Sunil Mohammed, who recently retired from CMFRI, says Kerala’s Marine Fisheries Regulation Act has been amended to make it illegal to catch fish below their legal size. But MLS can’t solve the problem because it can only help punish offenders, while measures such as adopting square-mesh codends can be a major step towards conservation.