84.GOAD’S OWN COUNTRY 12. THE CHINESE FISHING NETS AND THE FISH DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS OF KERALA.

The above two topics are not related although both of them deal with fish. They are clubbed together for the sake of convenience.

The Chinese Fishing Nets are unique to Kerala and are not found in any other seaboard state of India. Even in Kerala they are confined to Ernakulam-Alleppey-Kollam belt. There are two theories about how they landed here. One is that they were introduced by the Chinese fleet of Zeng He who visited Kerala in early 14th century. The other theory which is more plausible is that they were brought in by the ‘Casado’ Portuguese settlers who came from Macao. If this later theory is correct, the nets have a comparatively more recent history. In any case, they are a part of the south Malabar landscape for at least 300 years.

They are called CHEENA VALA, localy.

1

2

Why did they become popular as against the traditional fishing methods? The nets take less effort to operate compared to the more traditional method of hauling the net through the sand on the shore. It also requires lesser number of people to operate. On the flip side, it is not a very efficient method of fishing. The yield is quite low. The operation of these nets requires tidal waters. They catch fish only at the high tide when the seawater enters the creeks and the ’backwaters’. That explains their geography. You cannot operate them in the open seashores where most of the commercial fishing takes place.

We first encountered the nets at Vypin island. I guess they are found another fifty kilometres or so up north  in the Kodangallur area.

It is perhaps on the Vypin island in Erankulam district that they are economically important even now.

The fishing nets are a sort of factory. It needs a platform, staff, storage space etc. depending on the level of activity.

It is generally thought that these objects are made of wood. Not true. Although considerable amount of wood is used the main cross members of the beam are made of steel and bear most of the stress. In mechanical terms the nests are easy to lower into the sea and raise above after the catch with minimum efforts made possible by use of levers. They don’t require any other electro-mechanical inputs. Maintenance of the components appears to be the major source of expenditure in the operation.

Skilled workers are required to lower and raise the nets.

In terms of the fish caught, they appear to be insignificant in the overall fisheries scene of the state. Insignificant in terms of quantity of fish caught and its value. The major fishing method is of course the motorized trawling.

Apart from the estuarine  areas around Cochin, the southern backwaters also have the presence of these fishing nets. On  the Ashatmudi lake, they seem to be operated at night and use electrical lights to attract the fish. You can see the lamp on the top of this net.

dsc_4580

Whether economically important or not the nets add a lot of beauty to scene. No visitor to Kochi will return without the photographs of the nets.

At many places I think the nets are used as a piece of decoration, as here at Kumarkonam.

kumarkonam

At  Kochi a particular section of the town is called Fishing Nets area. I need to caution people about an activity caried out here.

A few people sell a lot of fish and crabs here. The selling point is that the fish is fresh off the Chinese Nets and you can have it coked instantly by the service provider on the pavement. They never say in so many words that the fish is off the nets. It is implied and we take it for granted, most of us. We establish a connection between the two.

This story has two parts, the source of the fish and the availability of cooking facility instantly. The first one patently untrue and the second part is absolutley true.

dsc_4076

Look at the wide variety of fish sold which includes Pomphrets.

Many of these are deep-sea fishes and cannot be caught here in the creek.

This is all about the Chinese Fishing Nets that I could observe.

Whilst at it, allow me to share a couple of other traditional fishing methods of Kerala.

The pictures below show a large net being used on the seashore at the receding tide. This method needs huge manpower and is a collective efforts by the fishermen community. The pictures below were taken at Kovalam in southern Kerala. This is not unique to Kerala. It is practiced in Maharashtra, Goa and presumably in Karnataka although I have not seen it. This provides the freshest possible commercial catch and is sold at a premium.

We have covered this in an earlier post in this blog. It is called Rampon or Rampan in Maharashtra and Goa. I need to find out what they call it in Malayalam.

There is another fishing expedition we could observe at Varkala in southern Kerala. Very interesting and Varkala being a cliff, we could observe it clearly but not at a close range.

Two boats venture into the sea. One is large, the other small. the larger one is carrying the net.

1

They spread the net in a circle.

A third boat provides some assistance or perhaps some supervision.

5

They are now closing in, bringing the entire net to the larger boat. In a short while the net is dragged on to the boat.

The whole operation took about 90 to 100 minutes. The boats return to the shore with the catch.

8

PART II- Distribution.

OK, the fish has been caught and it has to reach the plates of the customers. Let us see how they do it.

Practically everyone in Goad’s own Country eats fish. To feed this vast population with fresh fish is a challenge that has spawned various ingenious delivery methods.

The traditional roadside shop exists as it does everywhere else. They could be small makeshift kiosks or more elaborate structures which allow storage of unsold stocks.

dsc_2851

They also exist at the wholesale market places like the one below.

dsc_2879

Fish is sold at many places with the sellers seating on the ground with a basket or two arranged in front. This is particularly true when women are selling.

dsc_5125

More commonly it is a raised platform where the sale is completed standing up.

dsc_4448

Carts with bicycle wheels are also used in smaller places.

dsc_3491

In Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka selling of fish is women’s monopoly. In Kerala I guess the men do not trust the women with the money. I did not see many woman selling fish.

In most cases the sale is by weight but in many cases the age-old method of selling on the basis of a ‘portion’ prevails.

dsc_5152

The ‘portion’ system’ works well for odd items like the squid above or the Blue crabs below.

901

At times  the larger items are sold on ‘piece’ basis , like these  rays below.

902

This ‘numbers’ method is also useful for certain kind of shellfish like mussels. You can buy a 50 or a 100 of the delicacies below.

dsc_2852

Do they sell cleaned (dressed) or as it is found in the sea? The popular method in Kerala appears to be as it comes from the sea. The person cooking appears to be the deciding  on the method of cleaning.

Delivery on bicycles is still going on but looks like a dying institution but still exists all the same. The pictures below are in the heart of Kochi town. .

The motorbikes are a more viable proposition and they have been adapted very well for this activity. Look at this bike.

dsc_4450

It has the provision to fix the box with the fish and the ice. The melting ice water has to be drained. Provided for. The smelly water is drained on the road to burn the nostrils of the vegetarians passing by.

dsc_4451

dsc_4452

You will find this scene in many small towns and villages in Kerala.

dsc_4463

Frozen Fish does not appear to find favour with the Malayalis with most of the folks looking for fresh fish but use of ice appear to have gained acceptance. My friend Ibrahim at Ponnani does not use ice at all.

dsc_3133

On the Ashtamudi lake and other ‘Backwater’ areas fish is sold door to (wet)door by the small boats or canoes.

For movement of medium quantities, autorikshaws particularly the larger ones (6 seaters) are used, as are the ‘tempos’, the small trucks.

dsc_4319

Use of saloon cars is not prohibited.

There is an interesting phenomena we could witness not very far from Trivandrum. We entered a large fishing harbour called Muthalapozhi. It was empty but for a couple of stray latecomer. The fishing auctions were completed very early in the morning and the fish had gone to the smaller markets. Here we see a boat with fish. This is not a fishing boat. It is a ‘transport’. It brings the fish from the Trawlers when it is fresh and sells it here.

A  Trawler is at sea typically for 2 to 3 weeks and use ice for storing the catch. The quality of the fish after the three weeks is not the same as fresh fish. Many people do not buy fish from these trawlers. As a via media, these enterprising people buy fish from the trawlers, presumably mid sea and bring it to the shore-fresh.

The above information is from a buyer I met on the jetty and was willing to pay a higher price to this fish as compared to the one sold in the market.

If you really enjoy yourselves at a ‘market’, I recommend you a visit to a fish auction on the seashore when the small boats bring the catch ashore. And what better place for it than Kerala?

dsc_5150

Small lots are laid down on the beach one by one in quick succession and the bidding takes a minute or so for each lot.

Believe me, women are at their ferocious  best when they are bidding against each other.

Text and Pictures : Suryakiran Naik

suryakiran.naik@gmail.com

 

 

83. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – 11. Ashtamudi Lake

In the last post, we passed by the lake and proceeded briefly to Kollam for the sake of convenience of the narrative. The Ashtamudi Lake deserves its own Post. So, we are back here. Ashtamudi Kayal is what they call it in Malayalam.

A bit of geography and history would be in order here although this Blog does claim to be a technical one.

River Kallada and a few other smaller rivers discharge the waters they bring from the Western Ghats into a lowland area abutting the Laccadives (Or Lakshadweep now) sea which is a part of the Arabian Sea. The lowlands form a very complex ecosystem of lagoons, channels, backwaters, islands and creeks. This system is generally known to us as ‘Kerala Backwaters’ which with their more complex resorts and spas and Ayurvedic Massages establishments are a major business. Most people don’t realize the immense historical, social, political and economic significance of this system. This lake with its elder (and larger) sister called Vambanad up north form an amazing ecological universe. The beauty of this whole system is that it is navigable for over three districts. It has a length of 241 Kilometres with 41 rivers, small and big, discharging the waters they bring from the upland western Ghats to make it a mixture of saltwater and freshwater which has produced a few hundred Ph Ds in Marine Biology.

Our brief in this post is the smaller portion of the  system called the Ashtamudi Lake which terminates at Kollam in the south. Before me, among the important people who came here was Ibn Batuta the Moroccan traveller in the 14th century. Between  Ibn Batuta and myself, there was a remarkable Englishman who came here at the behest of East India Company of London.

Col John Monro came here as the EAC’s ‘Resident’ after the local kings played into the hands of the White Man and surrendered their sovereignty. This Scotsman is widely revered in the region. He worked on the lake, reclaimed some lands as island which are named after him- Munro Island. Among other things that Munro did wad to dig a narrow channel on a part of the land so that it could be in communication with another part. The eastern part that you see in the map below is the place through which the National Waterways No 3 passes and connects to the northern part of the system. The encircled area is the one that connects the Munro Island area to the eastern side of the lake.

screenshot_2017-02-17-18-21-57

It is on the bank of this narrow channel that we stay the night at the place called Roomi’s Nest. Roomi’s Nest has rooms on both sides of the channel. If you want to go from one to the other, you go up along the narrow path lining the channel, cross the bridge and come down again. Very complex for a hotel.

dsc_4521

 The difficulties and smallness of the place is compensated for by the very co-operative nature of Roomi and delicious food cooked by his wife.

dsc_4523

Entrance to Roomi’s Nest

 

Now what do you have in the lake? Many things if you have the time and the inclination. Unfortunately for us there is a feast going on that day at the Church and most of the resident fishermen of the area being Christians have excused themselves, leaving us with very little fresh fish. We were counting on three species of clams and one of oysters. We could not get any of the famous clams.

 

 

 

  We start the morning on the boat owned by Roomi. He joins us with his crew of two and there we go exploring. It requires a license for the skipper of the boat to operate it on the lake. It applies to all motorized boats.

dsc_4609

The houses on the shores of the lakes are colourful. It should be fun to live so close to the water although it may have its own difficulties , like the mosquitoes, the falling coconuts etc.

 The Chinese Fishing Nets are here on the western side of the Munro Island, but not many.

Among the economic activities one can observe on the islands is Goat-rearing.

Cows are seen but not many.This cow seems to be enjoying herself.

dsc_4671

There is a weed which grows along the shores of the lake and I was told is liked by the cows.

 

Rearing ducks appear to be an activity quite common all over Kerala and Ashtamudi lake is not an exception. It is quite interesting to see roadside shops in the state selling three types of eggs- the common hen eggs, larger Duck eggs and the smaller, spotted eggs of the Japanese Quail which is called Kad of Kada here.

dsc_4763

Coconut farming is a natural occupation of the people in Kerala and this lake area is not an exception. Processing of coconut was not noticed, neither did we see anyone selling green coconuts.May be it is done at places in the lake that we did not visit.

Fish farming, particularly the rearing of the Pearl Spot or the Karimeen is a lucrative business. We visit a farm where they raise the fish.

The fish are in the net. The net is puled out to show to the customers. If you dont like, the net goes back to the water with the fish remaining alive.

Roomi flatly refusesd to pay the asking price which he called exhorbitant for what was on offer.

dsc_4774

We could notice a Saw Mill on the lake shore indicating timber logging as aneconomic activity.

 

There are no school buses here or one has to go a longer distance to catch the bus. Taking a boat to the school is a better option for many of the students.

dsc_4617

Student awaiting arrival of boat to school.

Ashtamudi means eight-coned. The lake is a maze and requires transport systems to match.

There are the crossings from one side to other on small country boats.

dsc_4688

And also the larger motorized boats for the larger vehicles.

It looks like these houseboats are also used for transportation of people and goods.

dsc_4708

Churches and temples are aplenty along the lake shores. Devotional music can be heard.

The sport of angling is prevalent on the lake.

dsc_4635

Angler with his fish line under a railway bridge on Ashtamudi lake.

 

What is more interesting is that it is also practiced by young women which is rare. It was heartening to see woman anglers.

Fish is sold along the lake fringes in small country boats. The sale transaction is done with the vendor in the water and the customer on land.

dsc_4637

Fish Vendor-1

 

dscn0619

Fish Vendor -2

 

dscn0595

Fresh fish off the nets.Premium Quality.

 

There are a few islands in the lake apart from the larger Munro island and 43 species of Mangroves are supposed to be growing in the lake system which make growth of a large number of fish species.

As many as 57 species of birds have been recorded in the lake area, Among the most visible are the Cormorants who reside here in large numbers and constantly enrich the water with their dropping for the fish to grow on.

There were Kingfishers of course and the Terns and Bee-eaters.

dscn0591

River Tern

 

Roomi’s nest has a few residents. The White-Throated kingfisher has his holes in the sand banks. The Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker also nests in the coconut palms.

dscn0577

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik