12 / 1997
A common sight along the beaches of the southern districts of Quilon, Trivandrum or Kanyakumari in South India, is that of fishermen on plywood boats landing their catches. These are, in all probability, the "stitch-and-glue" plywood boats built by one of the boatyards under the network of the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS).
SIFFS has four boat building centres at Muttom, Anjengo, Quilon and Veli. Together they account for over half of the plywood crafts built in this region. SIFFS, with considerable assistance from the Intermediate Technology Development Group (UK), has been involved with boat building for the last decade.
Most of the fishermen who today use plywood boats were using the dugout or plank-built canoes or the traditional four-log kattumarams. (A kattumaram is made up of logs of lightweight wood lashed together with rope).
Plywood boats in this region are mainly of two types-the decked boats and the canoes or open vallams. The decked boats are unsinkable crafts. They are generally preferred by the kattumaram fishermen for their hook-and-line operations. The open vallams, on the other hand, are used by the fishermen who earlier used the dugouts or the plank-built canoes to fish with gill nets or drift nets.
In the 1980s, motorization and an increasing difficulty in obtaining logs of the right size and quality to manufacture new dugouts forced the fishermen to look for alternatives. They then took to plywood crafts in a big way. The fishermen found that these were safer, faster, sturdier, easier to beach, with a greater carrying capacity and were more suitable for fishing in deeper waters than their traditional crafts.
The needs of the fishermen have been constantly changing. SIFFS has consequently been modifying the plywood boats or making new models depending on the demands from the fishermen. Not all such efforts have been successful.
Some of the fishermen in the backwaters of Quilon, for instance, wanted a substitute for their traditional plank-built crafts. For them SIFFS built the thoni. While this was considered a good craft, no orders were placed, since it was more expensive than the craft they were using. The increased investment in a thoni would not translate into increased returns because they would still be working in the same fishery.
When the fishermen of Pozhiyoor wanted a bigger craft that would enable them to carry large quantities of driftnets comfortably, SIFFS responded with the 28-feet long Pozhiyoor model. This has been a big success with the fishermen of this area and SIFFS now gets a large number of orders for it.
SIFFS is now promoting the use of ice boxes and awnings - these can double as sails and a few fishermen are currently using them for motor sailing - and indigenously built diesel engines. These, SIFFS hopes, will eventually lead the fishermen to "stay fishing", where they fish for a longer duration and do not return the same day.
Changes in design have also been made depending on the availability of suitable raw materials for boat building. The plywood boats themselves were a response to the shortage of large logs of timber for building dugouts.
Today, good quality marine plywood has become scarce. A large quantity of marine-grade plywood is manufactured in India using timber imported from Africa and south-east Asia. The result is that the prices of plywood have increased by about 20 per cent in the last one year alone.
Last year, the Muttom boatyard (the largest under the SIFFS network)had to close down production of plywood boats for about three months, due to non-availability of marine-grade plywood.
SIFFS is currently experimenting with a different technique of boat building called "strip plank construction". This uses cheap, locally available timber. A sheathing of fibre glass protects the timber from marine borers and deterioration from prolonged direct contact with sea water.
SIFFS, an apex body of village level societies of artisanal fishers operating in the southern districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, has been responding to the technology needs of small-scale fishers. Its focus is primarily on developing the capacity of the artisanal sector. This is significant in view of the fact that a majority of governments, in both the South and the North, have focused mainly on developing industrial fisheries. Considerable technical and financial assistance has been provided. Little effort, in contrast, has been made to increase the viability of the small-scale sector. Not only has this sector been ignored, it has also had to contend with the rapid growth of industrial fisheries. It has had to face the consequences of destructive technologies adopted by the highly-subsidised industrial fleet, as almost all commercial fish stocks show sign of overfishing. It is time that systematic efforts are made to support the activities of the artisanal fleet and to work towards a sustainable fishery. In this, much can be learned from the efforts of SIFFS.
Artículos y dossiers
CHERIAN, Philips, Appropriate technology power in. Samudra Report, 1993/11, 8