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Traditional equipment and boats still in use:

Kuchchaveli fishermen appeal for help



Fishermen prepare nets to go to sea.

The Kuchchaveli village is about 40 kilometres away from the Trincomalee town along the Trincomalee-Pulmuddai main road. Fishing is the main livelihood of the people living in the village. It is stunningly beautiful, but there is no connection between the environment and people's lives. Despite their attempts to improve the economy via the fisheries industry, the shortage of resources remains a barrier to achieve their goals. This community has sought assistance from the Government to overcome challenges in the industry with technical advancement. The fishermen in Kuchchaveli hope the Government will extend material and technical assistance to improve the fisheries industry as well as their living standards.

Their future depends on the assistance of the Government. The future of the fishermen's children also depends on the improvement of the fisheries industry. The children are compelled to engage in the fisheries industry due to the lack of means to continue their education.

A Kuchchaveli fisherman, Abdul Raheem Abdul Majeed said: "There is a shortage of fishing nets and essential fishing equipment. Some fishermen had engine boats, but others used traditional methods of fishing. We experience big losses and inconveniences due to the invasion of Indian fishermen into our territory. They forcibly fish in our waters. Due to such activities our fishermen who depend on traditional methods return empty handed. They are unable to compete with the Indian fishermen who possess giant vessels".

"A fisherman's harvest has declined from 100 to 15 kilos, per day and sometimes even less. The income from fishing is not sufficient to manage the day-to-day expenses. The investment on fishing is high but the income is very low. On such occasions the balance has to be settled to the boat owner from the next day's earnings. It is the normal practice in the life of Kuchchaveli fishermen", Majeed said.

"A fisherman with engine boats will spend Rs. 4,500 to Rs. 5,000 on fuel per day. But most of the time the harvest is less than the expenditure. Another problem faced by the Kuchchaveli fishermen is the landing of the fishing boats. During some seasons they undergo immense hardship to drag the fishing boat to the shore as the angle between the sea and beach is steep. In the past we have experienced loss of life too due to boats sinking, Majeed said.


Jaya Nagar Fisheries Society boats.
Pic: Mohammed Naalir

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has allocated Rs. 2,000 million to develop fisheries harbours, jetties and fishing ports to improve the fisheries industry in the country. The problem of Kuchchaveli fishermen will be addressed soon. Steps have been taken to provide loans to purchase boats and other equipment, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Ministry spokesman D.S. Narendra Rajapaksa told the Sunday Observer.

He said Minister Dr. Senaratne is committed to find solutions to the fishermen's problems. He has directed the officials to take steps in this connection.

Fishermen's problems and their children's education problems will be addressed simultaneously, he said.

Following a request by Minister Rajitha Senaratne President Rajapaksa had relieved the fishermen from income tax. It had been effective from 2011.

The Fisheries Ministry has provided incentives to improve dried fish, Maldivian fish and the salmon industry, the spokesman said.

The fully equipped Dickovita fisheries harbour was commissioned last month and the Suduwella fisheries harbour will be commissioned by next month, he said.

Most of the fishermen in Kuchchaveli area still use traditional fishing equipment and boats. We go to sea daily surrendering our lives to nature. Deep sea fishing is not possible with the equipment that we have, he said.

The fishermen in the region collectively requested the Government to set up a jetty in Kuchchaveli. Setting up a jetty will play a pivotal role in the life of the fishermen. Some fishermen in Kuchchaveli use the Pudavaikaddu jetty to anchor their fishing boats. Most refrain from going to Pudavaikaddu as it is located over three miles away from Kuchchaveli. Nearly 150 families depend on the fisheries industry in Kuchchaveli. They know nothing besides fishing. The opportunity for agriculture in the area is very low. Amidst huge difficulties a small number of families practise agriculture. There are hardly any opportunity for daily wage employments. Most people's lives depend on the sea.

Fisherman Yousuff Rafeek said he has been engaged in fishing for the last eight years. During some periods the sea is rough and we have to refrain from going to sea. Our boats cannot counter the high rising tidal waves. Due to the lack of any other livelihood modes we are forced to engage in fishing amidst the difficulties. We request the authorities to provide us with modern fishing vessels, on a soft loan basis considering our critical situation.

The chief Imam of the Kuchchaveli Jummah Masjid, Muhammad Yakoob Muhammad Hussain said the angle between the beach and the sea is not parallel always. Sometimes the beach is too steep. Then the fishermen undergo much difficulty to take the boat to the shore and are forced to seek the assistance of the people who come to buy fish. Sometimes there isn't enough fish to distribute to the people who help. If a jetty is set up these problems could be solved, the Chief Imam said. Another fisherman, Hassanar Lebbe Mubarak said if a jetty is set up in Kuchchaveli the living standards of a large number of fishermen would improve. It could contribute to achieve the Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne's goal of eliminating malnutrition from the country, he said.

"Fishing is our main job. The Government must provide us essential equipment to improve the industry. If fishing boats, nets, buoys and boat engines are given fish production in the area would increase considerably. The equipment should be given on a subsidy basis. During certain periods I engage in paddy cultivation. This year paddy cultivation was also not successful", Mubarak said. We were not affected by the recent floods. But the tsunami severely affected the fisheries industry in Kuchchaveli. Since then we are unable to raise our heads, he said.


Temporary houses used by fishermen.

The GPS equipment is important for fishermen. It would prevent them going missing. They could then go to sea without panic. There are two fisheries societies in Kuchchaveli, the Jaya Nagar Fisheries Society and Kasim Nagar Fisheries Society. There are nearly 40 members in the farmer and over 140 members in the latter, he said.

"We have requested the authorities through these societies to provide nets, satellite equipment and new engines. If these items are provided to the fisheries societies the fishermen will be able to get the equipment from the societies in case the boat engine breaks down", Mubarak said.

Madhar Sahib Muhammad Yousuf who has been going to sea for 30 years said he experienced a shortage of fishing equipment such as boat engine and deep sea net. Anchoring fishing boats during rainy seasons was difficult as there is no separate anchorage.

"Some fishermen went to sea with one who owned a boat. The boat owner provided the fuel. The income is then shared between the fishermen and the boat owner after deducting the fuel cost", Madhar Sahib said.

He requested the Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who is working for the betterment of the fishermen to provide boats, boat engines, fishing nets, hooks and fishing thread. These are the equipment required by the fishermen urgently.

Madhar Sahib said the Indian roller boats which enter our territory destroy the fish breeding spots. Our fish resource is plundered by them.

During some seasons the fish harvest is high. Each fisherman would earn between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000 per day. It is not possible everyday. During rainy seasons the harvest is very low, he said.

He said if the harvest is less than the expenditure, both the boat owner and the fishermen would share the loss. Harvest is high during February and March. Apart from deep sea fishing, some used dragging nets. The fishermen in the area are not experts in dragging nets. Fishermen from Negombo and Chilaw areas use dragging nets in the Kuchchaveli seas.

During each season different varieties are available in the Kuchchaveli seas. In some seasons Salaya, Thoru, Seela, Alaguduwa and other varieties are found in the Kuchchaveli seas, Sahib said. A poor income accompanied by the lack of essential equipment is the main problem faced by the Kuchchaveli fishermen, Kasim Nagar Fisheries Society President A. Nisardeen said. He said if these fishermen had a smooth income their children would not need to go to sea.

In the past we used a place named Kasim Nagar Thotupala to anchor the fishing boats. It was destroyed by the tsunami. The income of the fishermen is not sufficient to purchase the required equipment. We receive a fuel subsidy, but are faced with a shortage of other equipment. We request the authorities to provide essential fishing equipment on a subsidy basis, he said.

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