Business hit by pandemic: Fishermen count losses as funds crunch keeps boats grounded

Now, even after Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, around 300 fishing boats and trawlers remain grounded.

Versova jetty wears a deserted look on a Friday morning. Last year at this time, it was bustling with trawlers unloading the day’s catch and trucks filled with the silver crops hauling to local markets and seafood exporters. Now, even after Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, around 300 fishing boats and trawlers remain grounded.

Local fishers said since January, only a few small boats are venturing into the sea. It was a similar scene at Bhaucha Dhakka, or New Ferry Wharf, and Worli Koliwada, they added.

Following losses sustained owing to the pandemic-induced lockdown, the fishing-boat trawlers now have new challenges – high fuel prices and pending export payments. New Covid-19 safety rules in China which accounts for 25 per cent of seafood exports from India; delayed shipments and plummeting fish prices forced over half of the nearly 4,000 trawlers at the fishing docks across Maharashtra to remain grounded since January.

With over 300 trawlers, with 3,000 active fishermen and 5,000 workers employed in ancillary activities, Versova used to have an annual turnover of approximately Rs 400 crore, but the fishermen are now counting their losses.

Around 400 boats, of the 1,000 registered at New Ferry Wharf, have gone to the sea, said fishermen at the Wharf. With export payments pending since October for many and diesel prices skyrocketing, multi-day trips are almost impossible.

Kiran Koli, secretary of the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, said: “Many fishermen have taken loans for their boats but they are not getting the desired returns. With diesel prices rising, the boat owners can neither afford the trips nor paying salary to the fishermen. Therefore, these boats are docked since January.”

This has been the second bad year in a row for the fishermen after the multiple cyclone-hit 2019 which reduced the fishing days. “It is a combination of many factors such as hike in diesel prices, low catch and pending exports payments. They are making things worse after the pandemic. If this continues, many people will be out of business. We have reached a stage where boat owners are ready to sell their boats due to financial crunch,” said Ganesh Nakhwa, chairman of the West Coast Purse Seine Fishing Welfare Association.

Santosh Shinde, a boat owner, said: “With the current diesel prices, I cannot afford to send boats for trips. I don’t make any money after spending on the fishermen, storage and tons of ice.”

Small fishermen are struggling with reduced catch. “There is a decline in pomfret prices. The catch has improved this month, so we are hopeful,” said Sandhya Koli, a fisherwoman from Versova market.

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