Sudhakar Gantandel from Harne port of Ratnagiri district returned from deep-sea on Monday evening after he got a call from his partner telling him about a rumour of lockdown in Maharashtra. "Everyone is saying that a lockdown is imminent. That is why Prakash (Sudhakar's partner) called me back. Why waste diesel and human resources for fishing if there will be no market? There is already huge losses in business for the last year," said Sudhakar on phone.
As the number of coronavirus patients is increasing in the state, there is indeed a possibility of lockdown in Maharashtra. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray while addressing the state on Sunday evening said that the number of patients and situation would be considered while bringing back lockdown. "If you don't want lockdown then start using the mask, maintaining a physical distance. If you want lockdown like back then you will not use mask," he said. Since then, the number of patients has been increasing by more than 6000 per day. So, people are anticipating a lockdown by March 1.
The fishermen community has three broad types. One category is small-time fishermen who go fishing in the nearby sea and earn their bread and butter. The second type of fishermen is those who generally go fishing for one to two days with their medium-size boats. And, the third type of fishermen generally go in deep sea with big trawlers, for four to six days. Sudhakar Gantandel is from the third category and has 12 fishermen on his two trawlers.
"My per day expenses include diesel (for trawlers) plus salaries of fishermen and their food. Twelve fishermen are given 350 rupees each. So, 4,200 rupees per day for fishermen. We cook ourselves and the food cost goes up to 1500 rupees. And we need diesel of 2000 rupees per day for one trawler, so that comes to 4,000 rupees per day. So, our daily expenses run into 10,000 rupees approximately," explained Sudhakar. Therefore, when they go fishing for six to eight days, one trip costs Sudhakar around 75 to 80 thousand rupees. "If we can't come with fish more than one lakh rupees in one trip, there is no reason to go. This time, we could have come back with more fish but there was no guarantee of the market due to lockdown. Therefore we decided to return," he said.
This is the story of big fishermen. Now those 12 persons won't have work until Sudhakar goes back for fishing. The fear of a lockdown has snatched their work for at least eight days and each one of them lost Rs 2500 to Rs 2700.
The smaller fishermen who own one single small boat and do traditional fishing are facing their own problems because of rumours. Yogesh Bhandari, from Girye village of Sindhudurg district, has a small boat. He goes fishing at 3 or 4 am every day and returns to the coast by 10 am. He brings back fish of around Rs 2500 to Rs 3000. He, along with his cousin and partner Mahendra Bhandari, need Rs 1000 to Rs 1200 daily as boat expenses--mainly for diesel and travel to take fish from coast to market.
Generally, these smaller fishermen do fishing near coastal areas. So, they get fish of smaller size, which are not so popular among sea food lovers. These fish sell in local markets mainly. But as there is the fear of coronavirus, people are avoiding going to fish markets. These fishermen like Yogesh sell their fish showing customers the freshness of fish as the small fishermen do not have the capacity to keep fish in cold storage.
"Our fish sell has gone down to 1000/1200 rupees--that too on Sundays and Fridays when people generally consume non-veg food. On the other hand, expenses on diesel are increasing. The return of coronavirus and the fear or lockdown are the reasons for this," said Yogesh.
The auction of fish at Malad is famous and popular in Mumbai and its suburban area. Vanita Koli, a fisherwoman from Malad, is one of those hundreds of fish sellers who buy fish here and go back to their local area to sell. She is also experiencing a downfall in demand. "My sell has gone down by almost 50%. I can see in Malad market that people don't come like earlier. We too are hearing about a lockdown, so nobody wants to take the risk and buy fish here," said Vanita.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh has warned on Twitter to not spread rumours about the lockdown. "We will take strict actions against those who are spreading rumors about the lockdown, be it on Whatsapp or other social networking sites," said Deshmukh. But it is not helping on ground as increasing number of patients and the CM's statement (above mentioned) is being received together as a sign of impending lockdown.