The Lakshadweep waters are rich in many pelagic fish species such as tunas, sailfishes and sharks. In a study titled ‘Status of fisheries of Lakshadweep’ by N G K Pillai, et.al. 2006, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), the marine fisheries potential of Lakshadweep waters was estimated as 63,000 to 1,40,000 tonnes. Yellowfin tuna (T. albacares), skipjack tuna (K. pelamis), little tunny (E. affinis) are the commonly found tuna species with the skipjack tuna being the largest contributor to the islands fish catch. The potential resource of tuna in Lakshadweep was estimated to be 50,000 tonnes which indicated that there is a significant scope for the expansion of the fishery sector (ibid.) as the current production is only about 8300 tonnes. (8264 tonnes as per the CMFRI Annual Report 2009-10 data).
According to the 2005 National Marine Fisheries Census on craft and gears of the Lakshadweep Islands, it is estimated that the total number of fishing crafts operated in the Lakshadweep waters are 2,275. Wood was cited to be the most popular building material as 80 per cent of the boats are built of wood. Out of these 58 per cent are non-mechanised crafts while mechanised and motorised crafts comprised of 26 and 16 per cent respectively.
Tuna fishing methods
Pole and line: The pole and line fishing method for catching skipjack tuna is the backbone of the island’s economy which started during early 60s following the mechanisation of boats and as the chumming using live baits gained wide popularity in the Lakshadweep islands. Bamboo poles of 2.4 to 2.7 m are commonly used and the line, made of synthetic polymers such as polyamide or polyester monofilaments which provide high tensile strength and breaking load, is fastened to the pole.
The catch is used for making ‘masmin’ – a delicacy of these islands, a major portion of which is also exported to the mainland. The contribution of tuna from pole and line fishing is reported as 94.8 per cent followed by troll lines, drift gill net and hand lines. Pole and line fishing method is practiced by all islanders except those of Andrott (Pillai 2006). As per the paper ‘Marine living resources of the union territory of Lakshadweep – An indicative survey with suggestions for development’ by P S B R James, 1989, CMFRI Bulletin, the main bottleneck in pole and line fishing operations is the unavailability of suitable baits.
Troll line: Trolling is a popular fishing method used to especially catch yellowfin tuna during the monsoon when the pole and line fishing operations are totally suspended. The shape and jerking of the jigs in the water attracts the fish such as tunas, barracudas and seerfishes. Also, limited crew is required for the fishing operations with an assortment of cotton rags, coir fibres and synthetic fibres, which are used to make lures.
Hand line: Hand lines, with single hook are used for fishing in lagoon waters to catch snappers, perches, carangids, reefcods etc. The ease of operation is the main highlight of this fishing method. Sinkers with sufficient weight is used to reach desired depths and snood wires are rigged on the lower end of the line to prevent shark bite offs.
Long line: The fishing method is not popular in the Lakshadweep Islands and is seldom used, apart from some experimental fishing operations carried out by Department of Fisheries, Lakshadweep Administration. Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) has introduced horizontal long line fishing for catching the unexploited large pelagic fishes like tuna and bill fishes under the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) entitled ‘A value chain on oceanic tuna fisheries in Lakshadweep Sea’. The experimental fishing operations carried out indicated the adoption of long line fishing operation as an alternative fishing method for catching the unexploited large pelagic fishes (Fig 1). The CIFT has modified 5 Pablo boats from Agatti, 2 from Andrott and 5 from Minicoy for tuna long line operations. The Pablo boats which are using for pole and line fishing operations can be effectively modified for tuna long lining by making minor alterations and modifications in the deck.
Gill net: Set and drift gill nets is yet another form of fishing operation popular in the Lakshadweep, mainly used to catch tunas, sharks, perches and carangids. The size of the nets varied greatly from 10 to 90 m in length and 2 to 4 m in height as pointed out in the study ‘Fishing methods of Kalpeni Islands, Lakshadweep,’ by V E P Anand, in 1990, published in Fishing Chimes. CIFT has carried out experimental drift gill net operations in the Lakshadweep waters for catching large pelagic fishes like tunas and bill fishes and indicated promising results. As against the small meshed drift gill nets and set gill nets used in lagoon areas, CIFT introduced large mesh gill nets by carrying out experimental and pre-commercial fishing operations at Agatti. Gill net was understood to be effective as a diversified fishing method to harvest the vast untapped pelagic resources. This can be commercially scaled up for successful operation in the Lakshadweep islands.
OTHER Fishing methods
Gill net fishing is usually carried out at night so that visibility is low and fish are not able to perceive the gill nets easily. The net is stored on the platform at the aft portion of the boat and shot from the moving vessel from the rear. While shooting the net, the float line and the foot rope are separated so that the net opens up without entanglement. After the shooting of the net set at a depth of 100-200 m off the islands, the engine of the vessel is stopped and the net is allowed to drift for about 4-5 hrs with the fishermen keeping a constant vigil so that the net does not drift away from the vessel towards the shore. The net is then hauled up manually. Four to five fishermen are required for the fishing operation.
Wounding gears like koodulli and chaatulli are also popular form of fishing methods in the islands as cited in V E P Anand’s 1990 study. Two indigenous drive-in fishing techniques based on the tide and habitat of fish exists in the Minicoy Island. Harpooning for octopus is also practised and is popularly known as appal kuthal.
Despite pole and line fishing being the most popular fishing method, other fishing methods like large mesh drift gill netting, horizontal long lining, vertical long lining, trolling and hand lining have been seen to be potentially more viable for harvesting larger tunas like the yellowfin. The CIFT working with the fishermen with mesh gill netting have evinced a keen interest among the islanders in such innovative fishing methods. Modification work on Pablo can also be carried out easily by the fishermen. Moreover, they can switch from pole and line fishing to long line fishing depending on the fishing season. However, the success of tuna long lining depends on the skill of the fishermen, use of suitable baits, appropriate hooks, depth of operation and temperature of water as tunas are generally associated with the thermocline layer. It is pertinent to understand that the tuna catch will need to be handled carefully and stored hygienically to fetch a premium price.