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Among the key contributors to dwindling fish catch is trawling that catches the hatchlings too. The target of trawlers is not hatchlings but they get caught in the nets and are scooped up. While hatchlings that come along with the fish are not consumed as food, they fetch a price as fodder for chicken. The Kerala government is levying a fine on fishermen catching hatchlings and last year alone the government collected a total fine of Rs 2 crore, says M Ilango, fishermen activist and former Puducherry MLA.

Starting April 15, every year, there is a 61-day ban on fishing in most parts of Tamil Nadu. In Kanyakumari, the fishing ban is from June 15 to August 16. This is the fish breeding season and a ban on fishing at that time helps to conserve the population. But not all fish breed during this time. Intensive trawling techniques destroy many of these hatchlings that are born outside the ban period. “We have banned purse seine nets and pair trawling and do seize boats that do this,” says Natarajan, assistant director for fisheries.

Ramesh, a Cuddalore fisherman, says: “In some places, fishermen persist with such banned techniques and destroy hatchlings. Every fisherman has the responsibility to protect and conserve resources. The fisheries department should also take strong action.”

The problem of hatchlings being caught was not there in southern districts but it has come up again. “We recently seized a boat that had hatchlings of ribbon fish. We destroyed the hatclings and levied a fine,” says Ajith Stalin, another fisheries official.

Stakeholders are asking for strong action. They cite the strong action taken by Kerala government. In a press conference, the Kerala fisheries minister Mercy Kuttiamma said: “Strong measures like levying fine can help to boost catch and ensure livelihood of fishermen,” she said.

Ilango lauds the Kerala government initiative. “Right now, the authorities are not really keeping a watch on whether hatchlings are being caught. If Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka governments take a strong stand against this illegal practice then fish catch can be restored. Strong action should also be taken against factories that buy hatchlings from fishermen to feed chicken and fish,” he said.

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