Oceans and Coasts

Booming commercial fisheries

Exploring the emerging commercial fisheries in the Lakshadweep archipelago.

Team members : Rajeswari B.T., Al Badush, Radhika Nair, Rucha Karkarey, Mayuresh Gangal, Stella James, Rohan Arthur

Project timeline: 2014 - Ongoing

Lakshadweep fisheries

Livelihood of Lakshadweep depends on the availability of resources and the market. Coconut and coconut products were subsistence. And then during the 1960s department of fisheries in Lakshadweep introduced a fishing method for tuna catch, called “pole and line” which is a very sustainable and less destructive fishing technique. Tuna fishery became the source of livelihood in Lakshadweep over the past several years. Also, fishing begins as a commercial base. Fishers used to get lots of tuna through the “pole and line” method and started making a product called “mas meen” with skipjack tuna because of the limitation of the fish preserving technique. “Mas meen” is the boiled, smocked, and dried tuna and it is a 10-12 days process. Until a decade ago, commercial fisheries in Lakshadweep focused almost entirely on offshore tuna and pelagic fish. This ensured minimum fishing pressures on coral reefs and helped in maintaining healthy populations of ecologically important reef fish populations on near-shore coral reefs. In the past, Lakshadweep’s reefs have witnessed severe mass-bleaching events (1998, 2010). Our long-term monitoring showed that Lakshadweep reefs recovered from these events, faster and better than many other tropical regions, where human population density is found to be just as high.

The footprint of fishing pressure has been steadily increasing in Lakshadweep in the last decade, because of the unpredictability of pelagic tuna as a commercial resource and exposure to global reef fish markets, began around 2010-2011 when mainland boats with huge storage capacity started operating in Lakshadweep and collecting reef fishes for export to the mainland (collector boats/motherboats). This activity has significantly precipitated the commercialization of reef fisheries in Lakshadweep. Especially, in a place like Lakshadweep there is no traditional regulations for sustainable fishing and each inhabited island has a gradient of connectivity, population, and enterprise.

Role of reef fishes

Reef fishes play a very crucial role in the recovery of coral reefs after the mass bleaching events. Many of the commercially important reef fishes are long-lived and their replacement rate is significantly low when compared to the tuna. The large-scale extraction of reef fish is thus not sustainable for recovering coral reefs. The changing nature of commercial fisheries towards coral reef fish also threatens the recovery capacity of coral reefs after bleaching disturbances. The large volume of commercial predatory reef fish extraction is comparable to regions with Marine Protected Areas outside of the commodity market. Thus a critical component of our work is to document and understand the expansion of commercial coral reef fisheries and local reef fish consumption in Lakshadweep.