Fishermen struggle for survival as troubled waters rise at Loktak Lake

Owing to lockdown, the lives of the fishermen at Loktak Lake, whose only source of livelihood is traditional fishing and selling fish, have been hit hard.

The indigenous fishermen at Loktak Lake in Manipur today is slowly losing grip on the fishing line, their only lifeline which is growing thinner amid the lockdown situation in the state.

As every section of the society faces hardships in different degrees and ways owing to the pandemic and lockdown enforced to contain the spread of the disease, the lives of the fishermen at Loktak Lake, whose only source of livelihood is traditional fishing and selling fish, have been hit hard.

As challenges mount, the Loktak Lake fishermen lamented that while the prices of other goods are rising, they have to reduce the price of fishes since most of the markets remain closed during the lockdown, and they have no outlets to sell the fish they catch from the lake.

With no cold storage facilities to store the fish caught, they dry them by using traditional methods such as heating them dry over burning firewood to preserve the fish. While doing so, they have to cope with the added burden of increasing firewood price.

Yet, another challenge the fishermen face—the high price of hiring vehicles to transport the fish. As markets are closed and public transport has ceased work, the fishermen have to hire vehicles on higher rates to transport the fish and sell them at any available market.

Even if they managed to sell the fish, they could hardly make any profit as the transportation charges are high and they have to buy daily essential items in the market which are priced much higher than the usual rate.

Speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press, All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur (ALLAFUM) president Khwairakpam Deban said, “Traditional fishing has been the only source of livelihood for the fishermen in Loktak Lake. But after the lockdown began, we could not sell the fish daily. Even if we manage to sell them, we have to lower the price because there is no proper market”.

Deban said the price of essential items is higher than the usual rate but fishermen have to sell the fish at a lower rate since there is no proper market at present. Majority of the fishermen have no choice but to borrow money from money lenders to buy fishing equipment and even for other purposes such as treatment of health. But after experiencing a downfall in their business, paying the interest for the loans has added another burden to the fishermen, he said.

ALLAFUM finance secretary Thambalsang Oinam told the Imphal Free Press that fishermen do not own lands to cultivate rice or to plant any vegetables. So, they depend on the daily income from selling fish to buy rice and other essential items.

Oinam said, “Even if we continue to catch the fish, there is no longer any market to sell them due to the lockdown and there is no cold storage facility to keep the fish fresh”. Even drying them by using burning firewood to preserve the fish has added another problem as the price of firewood is also increasing, she said. Since the market is closed, they have to sell the fish at a lower price in order to run the family, she added.

The government has provided relief materials to different parts of the state but fishermen in Loktak have not received any kind of help from the government during the lockdown, she informed.

Another fisherman, Chaoba said that the government has not officially recognised the fishermen in Loktak Lake. The people engaging in fishing farming and having their own land records avail all the schemes sanctioned by the government for fishermen, he added.

Chaoba also drew the attention of the state government to officially recognise the fishermen in Loktak Lake so that they can receive the benefits of many schemes sanctioned by the government. He suggested that the government should provide identity cards for the fishermen in Loktak by conducting a survey.

Informing that there are people using dynamos to catch fish from the lake, he said that the state government as well as the locals should prohibit such forms of practice.  He also appealed to the fishermen to avoid catching small fishes from the lake since it can be a factor in the decrease of fishes in the lake.

Environmentalist Ram Wangkheirakpam expressed the need of setting up a biodiversity committee for Loktak Lake in order to protect the biodiversity in the lake. It can be initiated by identifying the number of species and plants in the lake and to maintain a proper register, he added.

Once the plants and other species along with their benefits and use have been identified, it can be submitted to the State Biodiversity Board so that they remain protected, Wangkheirakpam added.

First Published:June 8, 2020, 10:31 a.m.