Aid to Odisha fisherfolk doubled for fishing ban to save turtles; Is it enough?

7-month ban during nesting period of Olive Ridley turtles; Even doubled amount of Rs 15,000 not enough compared with market rates, say fisherfolk; also demand reduction in ban period to 5 months

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Monday 06 March 2023
Fishing boats lying near Rushikulya river mouth during the ban period. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

The Odisha government has doubled the financial assistance to fisherfolk affected by the ban on fishing to protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles that turn up on the coasts. The one-time livelihood support to the fishermen has been increased from Rs 7,500 to Rs 15,000 from 2022-23.

The state imposes a seven-month-long ban on fishing activities every year from November 1 to May 31, marking the beginning of the nesting season of Olive Ridley turtles. The prohibition ensures that turtles don’t get entangled in fishing nets or come under the propellers of trawlers.

The scheme providing financial aid will benefit around 15,000 fisherfolk in Ganjam, Kendrapara and Puri districts. The government will spend around Rs 22.5 lakh on it every year, according to official sources.

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The revised amount will be transferred directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries before the end of March 31, 2023, said an official in the fishery (marine) department of the Odisha government.

The fishermen in these coastal districts of Odisha have been badly hit due to the ban on fishing for the conservation, breeding and nesting of Olive Ridley turtles near the mass nesting sites by the state government. The turtles gather on about a fourth of the 480-kilometre-long coastline.

Fishing by motorised vessels or trawlers is banned in a 20-kilometre range for around 120 km of the coastline. This includes the buffer zones in the mouths of rivers Dhamara, Devi and Rushikulya and Gahirmatha beach.

Olive Ridley turtles turn up in millions for mass nesting along the Odisha coast every year. They lay eggs in enmass at the Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapara strict, the Rushikulya river mouth in Ganjam and the Devi river mouth in Puri.

“We are identifying the beneficiaries for the livelihood support. The revised livelihood support will be transferred to the Aadhar-linked bank accounts of the beneficiaries soon,” said Subrat Patnaik, Ganjam district fishery officer (marine).

Over 14,000 fishermen received livelihood support in 2021-22.

The state government has increased the monetary livelihood support following the demands of the fishermen in different forums. Earlier, the state government provided Rs 5,000 per affected family. The amount was increased to Rs 7,500 in 2017-18.

But even Rs 15,000 was also insufficient compared to the present market price, said Odisha Traditional Fish Workers Union (OTFWU), an organisation of fishermen in the state.

“It’s tough to maintain a family with such meagre assistance. Considering the present market rate of the different commodities, we demanded the government increase the livelihood assistance to Rs 20,000 per month,” said K Yellayya, the union’s general secretary.

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The actual fishing ban in the coastal area in the state is eight months, as the government also imposes a 61-day fishing ban from April 15 to June 15 to facilitate fish breeding in the sea, said Yellayya. The government prohibits fishing through mechanised boats, big vessels and trawlers during the period, he said

“We have demanded a reduction of the ban period to five months from January, fishing ban area from 20 km to 5 km from the coast and to provide alternative livelihood to all the families including the trawler operators due to the prohibition,” said Yellaya.

The fisheries department has registered 21,832 fishing vessels, including 1,741 trawlers in Odisha, sources said.

“Our vessels are ideal during the ban period. The government should include the trawler operators under the livelihood support scheme of the fishermen,” said Jogi Behera, a trawler operator in Rambha in Ganjam.

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