COVID-19: Odisha fishermen feel lockdown heat

Prices plummet drastically, movement of fishermen to other states hit

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Monday 23 March 2020
Paradip fishing harbour. Source: Ashis Senapati

The Odisha government’s decision to put 14 districts under lockdown till March 29 has dealt a blow to the fishing sector in the state.

The districts under lockdown include Puri, Nayagarh, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Balasore, Dhenkanal, Sambalpur and Jharsuguda. 

Earlier, only five districts comprising Khordha, Cuttack, Ganjam, Kendrapara and Angul were placed under lockdown.

Many of these districts are by the Bay of Bengal. 

The heat is being felt in coastal districts; borders with other states have been sealed, affecting fishermen who sold fish from the regions, said Prasana Behera, president, Odisha Traditional Fish Workers’ Union.

The fate of these fishermen now hangs in balance. Before the lockdown, fish suppliers would travel to West Bengal in trucks and buses to sell off the fish. That has been stalled now. 

“The prices of fish is falling. Fishermen are losing money. Earlier, we would send ten trucks loaded with fish to West Bengal, and five trucks having dry fish to North East,” said Bayadhar Behera, a fish supplier in Paradip.

“We depend on the sea for our daily earnings. We can deal with bad weather, cyclone and choppy waters. But the coronavirus has ruined our lives,” said Maheswar Mandal, a fisherman.

The rate of fishes like pomphret, rohu, mirakali, among others has seen a drastic fall.

Till last week, a kilogram of pomphret fish cost Rs 300. Now, it costs Rs 150 in Kendrapada town, according to Anadi Behera, a fish merchant.

While some fish merchants preserved fish in cold storages, most lack facilities to do the same. As a result, they have no choice but to sell off the fish at a lower price, said Narayan Haldar, president of Odisha Masyajibi Forum.

About 32 seafood export companies exported seafood worth around Rs 3,200 crore in the current financial year.

Last year as well, cyclone Fani had wreaked havoc in the fishing sector as hundreds of fishing boats and prawn farms were damaged, said Kamalesh Mohanty, president, Sea Food Exporter Associations of India.

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