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Changing balance of power at seap

Motorization of Artisanal Fishing Craft

(Changer l’équilibre du pouvoir en mer La motorisation des embarcations de pêche artisanale)

Chandrika SHARMA

01 / 1998

Motorization of the traditional craft, kattumarans, along the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu, is taking place at a rapid pace, with the active support of the State. Besides other benefits, motorization of kattumarans has enabled artisanal fishers to hold their own, at least to some extent, against the disruptive activities of trawlers.

Trawlers were introduced into Tamil Nadu, India in the early 1960s. Spurred by increasing demand from the international market for luxury seafood, trawler fishing became an investment avenue seriously sought after by business interests. Within a short period of time a strong interest group with powerful economic and political connections was created.

However, conflicts soon erupted between trawlers and kattumaran fishermen in Tamil Nadu, the latter using largely passive fishing gears. Conflicts between trawler crews and kattumaran fishermen grew in intensity in the 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the violent Madras riots of October 1977. These conflicts had a basis since trawlers were affecting the livelihood of kattumaran fishermen. This happened for two reasons: one, conflict over resources and two, conflict over space. Conflicts over resources arose out of trawlers and artisanal vessels

competing for the same resources, over species like shrimp. Conflicts over space arose out of two conflicting fishing methods operating in the same column of the sea, thus contributing to destruction of the craft and gear of artisanal fishers.

While such conflicts occur even between groups of kattumaran fishers, they are of a different character since they are, in a sense, between equals. Both parties are capable of being culprits or victims. Moreover, since both parties use passive fishing gear, damages tend to be slight.

And since the culprit is often identifiable, problems can be solved through hamlet councils.

The conflicts between trawlers and inshore fishermen, on the other hand, are very unequal. Trawlers inflict harm but rarely incur it. Moreover, the resultant damage can be substantial, and includes damage to gear, and sometimes to lives. Also, since the culprit often hails from a distant harbour, and has sufficient motor power to outdistance any sail or hand-powered pursuer, he is often not apprehended.

Besides the direct damage to craft and gear, intensive trawling operations in the Chennai region in the 1970s and 1980s have contributed significantly to the depletion of inshore resources and resulted in an overall decline of catches, including those of kattumaran fishers.

In the absence of effective government mechanisms to deal with these conflicts, traditional hamlet councils have assumed importance. Trawler-owners, in towns such as Madras, have set up organisations, which take up many of the functions traditionally associated with such councils. These councils address, in addition to problems, which arise between their members, disputes dealing with damages inflicted on kattumaran fishers. These councils became really active during the riots of the 1970s when owners realised that conflicts could be contained

only if they also made real efforts to redress the problems. The `jury’ consists of senior members of the association. After hearing the grievances of both parties, the cost of the damaged gear is assessed and a binding verdict is passed.

However, kattumaran fishers consider the dispute settlement activities of the trawler-owner associations as prejudiced and inadequate, especially since the jury consists only of members of the trawler-owner association. Moreover, they are required to identify the trawler, and preferably provide its registration number, often a difficult task. In addition, kattumaran fishers are required to travel several times to the place where the hearings are being held, and often the compensation is considered meagre.

In this context, the motorization of kattumarans has helped lessen the imbalance. Motorization has made possible the capture of erring trawlers by kattumaran fishers, and this is their ultimate weapon. Boat capture happens when other panels of conflict resolution are perceived as unfair. Motorization has also helped facilitate identification of erring trawlers, since culprits can be chased more easily.


pêche, conflit social

, Inde, Tamil Nadu


Introduction of trawlers in Tamil Nadu has affected the artisanal

kattumaran fishers in more ways than ones. The use of such over-efficient gear has led to a

depletion of inshore resources. The catches of artisanal fishers have declined as a consequence.

In addition, trawling operations often destroy the gear and craft of kattumaran fishers. While

hamlet-based conflict resolution mechanisms have been developed at the initiative of trawler

owners, these mechanisms are often perceived as unfair by kattumaran fishers. Motorization of

kattumarans has helped rectify the balance somewhat since this enables better identification of

offending trawlers. Moreover, capture of trawlers is used as the ultimate weapon and this

helps exert pressure on trawl-owners councils to take decisions perceived as fair by

kattumaran fishers.

However, artisanal fishers have still to act effectively to minimise the damage to fishery resources caused by trawling operations. In this sphere the fight remains as one between unequals, since trawler owners continue to enjoy state support and patronage. It is only after considerable struggle that the artisanal fishers in some states of India have succeeded in forcing their governments to prohibit trawling in inshore waters.


Articles et dossiers

BAVINCK, Maarten, Changing Balance of Power at Sea: Motorization of ArtisanalFishing Craft in. Economic and Political Weekly, 1997/02/01

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - Inde - - icsf (@)

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