Maharashtra: In coastal areas, the big catch this poll season — curbing LED-light fishing

At the fishing village on Harnai beach, in Dapoli area of Ratnagiri. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

As the coastal parliamentary constituencies of Raigad and Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg go to polls with 12 other Lok Sabha seats in the state on Tuesday, fisherfolk in the three districts here are counting on the government's crackdown on fishing using LED lights, which is allegedly eating into the traditional fishermen's catch and drying up their business.

Seated on a plastic stool on Harnai beach in Ratnagiri's Dapoli, Jayashree Kalekar has an array of fish on display before her. She raises her cleaver in the air before she chops off the head of a king fish purchased by a restaurateur.

"I will cast my vote on April 23. The only expectation I have from the government is that it will put an end to the use of LED lights for fishing. Small fishermen cannot afford these expensive lights that attract fish. We are left with nothing to bring back as the bigger, mechanised vessels take away all the catch," says the 36-year-old mother of three.

Bhaskar Waghe, 38, said that the fishermen's organisations from the three districts had met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Gudi Padwa.

"While the government has imposed a ban on LED-light fishing, there is no implementation on the ground. It continues uninterrupted. Uddhav ji arranged for leaders of our Machcimar Sangh to meet Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Nirmala Sitharaman in Delhi on April 9. We are now counting on them to resolve our issues."

Until four days ago, several groups of fisherfolk from Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg had decided to boycott the Lok Sabha polls on account of the alleged indifference of elected representatives towards their issues.

However, at a meeting held at Malvan in Sindhudurg on Sunday, many of these groups decided to participate in the election process.

Gangaram Adkar, member of Sindhudurg Zilla Machchimar Samanvay Samiti, said: "We had about 70-80 representatives of coastal villages from both the districts present at the meeting. I proposed that both Uddhav saheb and Rane saheb have given us assurances and we should respect that. Each one should vote for a candidate of their choice and whoever wins should be accepted as our leader."

He added that while the parliamentary constituency was a large one, in six months, there will be Vidhan Sabha elections.

"If we are not heard now, we will ensure that in the next election our point is driven home," he said.

Claiming that action against Pakistan was necessary, Waghe said: "Issues like nationalism and patriotism are all very well, but they aren't relevant here. Our issues are not like that of the farmers in Marathwada. We get no attention. We are also struggling to make ends meet and we would like facilities like a jetty and security of our livelihood."

Along with a ban on LED lights, the fisherfolk say assurances given by the Centre to create a separate ministry for fishing was yet to materialise.

They claim there was also a need for a cell that ensured implementation of the LED ban and rules that enabled seizure of vessels using such lights.