The Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen (ADSGAF) was formed in 1992 to promote the fishing activities of deep sea fishermen of the Thoothoor region of Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu. Using small mechanized boats they practice long-lining methods for shark fishing and other pelagic species such as tuna. They also use gill-netting for other species in the deep sea. As they migrate all over the coasts of India, they confront many problems.
Fishing in the deep seas — something few other Indian fishing communities do — with their small-mechanized boats, they ADSGAF members face many challenges. First and foremost is the danger of wide open ocean. They also often fall prey to the suspicions of the Coast Guard and are taken into custody for questioning. Confused by the intentions of the coast guard, the innocent fishermen try to escape and fall into unnecessary legal hassles and problems. Too, they encounter resistance at other ports if they go to harbor away from their home. They also face increasing competition from foreign vessels as well as India’s national fleet.
Small-scale artisanal fishermen have been an outlier community all over India, as reflected by the usual human development indices. This has been the case also in the South Kerala-South Tamil Nadu region, which is otherwise relatively well-developed. This region has several large communities of artisanal fishermen who have been traditionally using kattumaram and small, passive fishing gear for eking out a livelihood in an ecologically sustainable manner. During the last 30 years, their lives & livelihoods have been substantially disrupted by the arrival of ecologically harmful technologies such as trawling, leading to conflicts both at sea and on land. The ways in the small-scale fishermen have responded to this change and also impact on their livelihoods, include adoption of outboard engines and other technologies for going deeper & farther out to sea.
One such group that has managed to fish in the high seas, beyond the Lakshadweep islands, and all the way north up to the Pakistan border is the deep sea hook & line fishers of Thoothoor region, which is adjacent to south Trivandrum (in fact, this region is part of the Trivandrum Latin Catholic diocese). This area of Kanyakumari District, comprising eight fishing villages, has very skilled and adventurous fishers who migrate all over the west coast of India and some parts of east coast in search for deep-water species such as tuna and sharks. These fishers have also adopted the use of compass, communications radio, GPS, fish finders and other navigational equipments from the year 1995. Although the sizes of their boats have increased but the fishing methods are still relatively sustainable using selective technologies such as hook & line and gill nets.
At a time when the Central Government is permitting fishing in the high sea by the vessels under Letter of Permit on the grounds that the small-scale fishers have no technology to harvest fish from these waters, this group has demonstrated over the last 25 years that they can sustainably harvest resources from the high seas. Since several of the species they catch is export oriented, these fishers make significant contributions to the national economy.