Kovalam Beach Part 3 - Fishermen

Kovalam Beach Part 3 - Fishermen

The local fishermen in Kerala have a very interesting way of working; to be honest, it seems very inefficient, and has apparently been handed down from generation to generation, like so many other things in India. I read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that the fish catches used to be much bigger, but have become smaller due to large-scale commercial fishing offshore. Perhaps in the past this style of fishing provided a much better income for the fishermen; and even if the catches are smaller nowadays, it is undeniably hard work.

The fishermen go out in boats like this.


The boats are loaded with big, heavy nets and ropes. They leave quite early in the morning, one fisherman told me that he starts his day at about 4:00 am, and that they lay a total of about 4 km of nets and ropes. They carry the nets away from shore, and drop them. These nets are attached to very long sturdy ropes, which are brought back to shore by the boats while the nets remain in the water.


Then, men on the shore begin to slowly pull in the nets; this part certainly seems quite hard, and my guess is that 50 or more men help; it is a slow and labor intensive process.


There are ropes at each end of the net, so as the net is pulled into shore, it forms a very large U shape with the open end facing the shore.


Young and old all work together.



In the meantime, some men are in the ocean swimming in front of the open side of the net, splashing as much as possible with their arms, my guess is that they do this to scare the fish and drive them into the net, where they are trapped. This also looks like hard work, since they remain in the water for a long time, and the waves can sometimes get big.


Eventually, the net is pulled into shore.


The net is folded up to trap the fish, and pulled onto the sand.


Some wait expectantly for the catch.


But the catches are usually small.


This man approached me as I was taking photos and asked for money, saying that he has a hard time making a living, so I should pay a little for the photo opportunities.


I did not give him any, but we spoke for a short time. His name is Aran, if I understood him correctly. He told me that the catch is usually less than 200 fish, often under 100, and they usually get about 20 rupees per fish; so this is about 4,000 rupees on a good day. However, there are about 50 or more people working on the catch, if the money is divided evenly, this means about 80 rupees (about 200 yen) per day or less. This is certainly low by US, European or Japanese standards, but to put things in perspective, you can buy a good lunch in a local (non-tourist) restaurant in India for about 20 rupees. Aran also told me that there is only one catch per day, which lasts from about 4 am to 10:30 am, and after this they seem to spend some time maintaining the nets and ropes, so it is a long day.

I have also seem fishermen using smaller boats. These boats look very primitive and cumbersome, but they get the job done and seemed quite rugged.

The following photos were taken the last time I was in Kovalam in February of 2003 for Petri's workshop; I usually post only current photos on this blog, but this boat is interesting, so here are some old photos.

A local fisherman had a sign advertising snorkeling trips. My friend Junko Nakazono is an avid snorkeler, so we decided to give it a try. The price turned out to be 300 rupees per person for a two hour trip, which seemed quite expensive; in Thailand, we went on a 5 hour trip which included a good lunch, and the cost was the same. However the fisherman refused to lower his price, saying that it was too much work to set up the boat. At first, I thought this was merely an excuse to overcharge, but after watching the setup and helping to paddle to boat I felt more sympathetic!

The boat basically consists of 4 long, slightly curved and very heavy pieces of wood tied together by rope. There is space between the 4 pieces of wood so water comes in through the bottom of the boat; this boat does not float by trapping air inside, it floats only because the wood floats!


It is so heavy that the fisherman and his assistant have to carry each piece right to the water and assemble it there. otherwise the assembled boat is too heavy to move.


Once the 4 main pieces are lined up, a small piece of wood is held at either end, it is used to align the 4 main pieces and to provide a place to wrap the rope.


It took about 20 or 30 minutes to assemble the boat. With 4 passengers (me, Junko, the fisherman and his assistant), it was quite full and low in the water, some of the waves near the shore washed right over the boat.


The oars were also very simple: only a piece of bamboo cut in half along its length; there was no flat portion at the end, they seemed inefficient. Paddling was hard work!

The fisherman and his assistant handled the boat expertly, but it seemed difficult. The boat did seem very inefficient, but it must have some practical advantages, otherwise, the design would probably have been abandoned long ago.

If you can think of any advantages to this boat design, please leave a comment!

by dcaplan | 2006-01-20 14:51 | Kovalam 3-Fishermen
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