Tamil Nadu fishermen: Netting plenty, living in poverty

A fisherman repairing a net in Cuddalore. Photos: N Vinoth Kumar

Data can often look strange. For instance, the Central Marine Fisheries Institute (CMFRI) estimates that the export component of the fish catch from Tamil Nadu’s 13 coastal districts fetched a total of nearly ₹30,000 crore as foreign exchange to the country in 2017. This means each fisherman generates ₹25,000 worth of export catch a month, and this doesn’t include the catch sold in the domestic market.

Yet, in 2010, CMFRI estimated poverty levels of 65% among fishermen. For instance, in Tirunelveli, each fisherman generates more than ₹1 lakh a month of export catch but 40% of the population was below poverty level in 2010. While poverty levels may have decreased in the last eight years, what is clear is that despite producing value and owning the means of production, the average fisherman is severely shortchanged.

In Cuddalore district, each fisherman was generating export catch of ₹18,000 per month but poverty levels were 83%. In the village of Thazhanguda, all the families, some 500 of them, lived below the poverty line.

On the afternoon of April 22 at Thazhanguda, the fishermen were milling around, repairing their nets. Some were sleeping under the summer sun.

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