Popular fish and where to find them: Species specific advisories to help fishermen with profits

  • The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is reaching out to nearly 550,000 fishermen living along India’s coastline, everyday, with its potential fishing zones advisory to benefit them with better yield and in turn save both fuel and resources.
  • The institute also gives a specific advisory for tuna, a commercially important species, and is now getting ready to roll out similar advisories for other species like hilsa and sardine.
  • But some fishermen question the sustainability of the advisories and mechanised fishing. They wonder if the traditional wisdom of the fishermen and protecting fish stock is indeed more the need of the hour.

Already benefiting several hundred thousand fishermen with daily predictions about potential fishing zones along the Indian coast that can lead to a good yield, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is now ready to roll out species-specific advisories for fishes like tuna, hilsa and sardine.

India has a vast coastline of over 7,500 kilometres and an estimated seven million people living along the coast depend on fishing for their livelihood. With depleting fish stock over the years, it is a challenging task in some areas where the search for fish often involves a high investment of time and resources, with a low profitability in return.

To help the fishermen use their time and resources efficiently, INCOIS, an institute under India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) that is working on ocean research, started giving advisories to fishermen, suggesting potential zones of fish aggregation along the coast.

The Potential Fishing Zone (PFZ) advisory provides information on regions with fish availability as a map (including latitude and longitude) and in text form on a daily basis with specific references to 586 fish landing centres along the Indian coast. The information is available in ten languages, including Hindi and English.

As per INCOIS, the whole Indian coast is divided into 14 sectors – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, South Tamil Nadu, North Tamil Nadu, South Andhra Pradesh, North Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Lakshadweep Islands, Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands – and the PFZ advisories are generated for each sector.

INCOIS is giving potential fishing zone advisories for the coastal regions of the country. Map by INCOIS.

Focused fishing saves time and money

Though it was started in 2004, the system of issuing fishing zone advisories has picked up the pace in the recent years. The PFZ advisories are generated by using satellite measurements of the sea surface temperature and chlorophyll, and include details like the depth at which the fish catch would be possible. The advisories are shared through various media like telephone, fax, e-mail, website, Doordarshan channel on TV, radio, news media, mobile phones and LED boards at major fishing harbours.

Along with advisories, the fishermen are also informed about the expected behaviour of the sea at that location (or on the route) on that particular day or for the next few days. Since the PFZs can shift from the marked location, the advisories also include the wind speed and directional information to help the fishermen even when they reach the location after a day.

“Advisories on Potential Fishing Zones is one of our flagship programmes. We already have over 5.4 lakh (540,000) registered users and we plan to increase our registered user base to over 900,000 during the next one or two years,” said scientist Dr. Balakrishnan Nair T.M, who is also the head of information services and the ocean science group at INCOIS.

Additionally, for over two years now, the institute has been giving specific advisories for tuna, which is in high demand. The advisory for tuna is significant as it helps fishermen target this commercially important species. With a favourable response to the tuna advisories, INCOIS has now made the decision to roll out similar advisories for other species like hilsa and sardines.

“Fishermen are the backbone of the coastal economy and such service helps them to save resources and time. We have got a very good response from fishermen too as they don’t need to wander around and waste time in seas for days,” emphasised Nair.

Specific advisories are already being given for tuna and have received good response. Photo by Arijit Sahu/Wikimedia Commons.

Praise from all levels

The advisory service of INCOIS also received high praise from India’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu who, in July 2018, said that the PFZ advisories have now become part of the value chain of the fishing community.

“I am told that an estimated 4.5 lakh (450,000) users are regularly accessing this advisory and reducing their fishing time by 60-70 percent, while netting two to three times higher profit as compared to their previous searches prior to receiving these advisories. With millions along the Indian coastline dependent on fishing for their livelihood, I am pleased to know that these PFZ advisories with specific references to 586 fish landing centres along the coast are being given in the form of maps and texts in native languages,” Naidu had said.

“I am happy that the techniques and knowledge base developed at our research centres are helping in improving the quality of the life of the fishing community. This results in huge national savings on diesel and valuable human effort,” he added.

The vice president had also said that INCOIS’s efforts to fine-tune the accuracy of the PFZ advisories will further help out fishermen in their fishing activities.

In August 2017, the ministry of earth sciences had told the parliament that the fishermen in the country made an annual profit of Rs. 30 billion (Rs 3,000 crores) from these PFZ advisories.

According to INCOIS, feedback collected from the fishermen has indicated that the catch in the PFZ area is substantially higher when compared to the other areas. PFZ advisories were also found to be more beneficial to artisanal, motorised and small mechanised sector fishermen.

The institute’s effort now is to make their services available to more fishermen. Thus, it is now reaching out to the state fisheries departments to obtain the mobile numbers of all fishermen for targeted messaging. It has also learnt from years of experience and is fine-tuning its outreach strategy. For instance, studies have indicated that fishermen prefer mobile-based voice messages and text messages to receive the advisory rather than other sources and some of them even want training to be able to understand the advisories.  

There are concerns that fishing zone advisories may lead to depletion of fish stocks. Photo by Nathaniel Ayer/Wikimedia Commons.

What about traditional knowledge of fishing grounds?

One concern has been that many a time the potential fishing zones are away from the traditional fishing grounds of the fishermen.

“Excessive use of technology is harming the traditional culture of fishing in India. If everyone will get the same information, it may lead to the destruction of fish stock in that particular area. Fishermen don’t need so much of technology as they have vast experience and knows which fish will be found where,” said Debasis Shyamal, who is the secretary of the National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), which is a national federation of state-level small and traditional fish workers’ unions.

“Mechanised fishing is looting our sea. That stock first needs to be protected. If a proper fish stock is maintained then the fishermen will easily get fish. Destructive fishing gear should also be banned to save the fish stocks,” Shyamal added.

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