Like most people from Bengal, fish is something close to my heart or stomach for that matter. But have you ever thought what goes on from when a fish is caught till it appears in your local market? A lot actually, as I found out during some of my visits to the Malabar coast, more specifically the South Karnataka coast in India.malabarcoast6_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast2_lopamudratalukdarThis stretch of the Arabian Sea coast is very rich in marine life. From time immemorial,  people of this region have been venturing out into the sea and bringing back a rich haul of fish. Boothai (Sardine), Bangude (Mackerel), Kane (Ladyfish), Kappe Bondas (Cuttlefish), Anjal (Seer fish), Manji (Pomfret), Bolenjir (Silver fish), Mugudu (Catfish) and Thede (Big Catfish), Paiya (Silver Biddy), Koddai (Croaker fish), Mala (Mullet), Kurchi (Pony fish), Madimal (Pink Perch), Nang (Sole fish), Prawns, Crabs etc. are some of the popular fish variety. Sardines and Mackerels are the main raw materials used for manufacturing fish oil and fishmeal. Excellent quality fish with high oil content makes these species a perfect one for the purpose.malabarcoast7_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast1_lopamudratalukdarThe coast is dotted with small to large fishing harbors, usually situated in river estuaries. These harbors also double up as fish auction houses where each morning traders from as far away as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Goa converge to buy huge lots in open auctions. The fish is then packed in iced crates and transported to distant places. Apart from fish sold for human consumption, a large part of the catch is converted to fish oil, fish soluble, steam/flame dried fish meal and sardine fish oil etc. These harbors are interesting places buzzing with activity. There are fuel pumps to feed the hungry trawlers going out to the sea, ice making machines installed by the sidewalks, plants making sweet water, transport depots, colorful crates stacked high and to top it all, people from different parts of India, speaking in different languages all at the same time. Retail stalls are also set up on the harbor itself where locals can buy the fresh catch in small quantities. malabarcoast9_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast10_lopamudratalukdarHowever, all this changes in the non-fishing season. From the beginning of June till the middle of August, none of the mechanized fishing vessels are allowed to venture out to the sea. The reasons are two fold; firstly with the monsoon setting in, the sea is rough and risky. Secondly, this period also coincides with the breeding season. During this two and half month period, the harbors are almost devoid of activities but that is when a different set of people have the busiest time of the season. These are the people who repair the boats or the ones who make the nets. There are a number of boat building facilities in this area, from repair work to painting, to keep them in shape for the next nine months or so. However fishing does not completely come to a standstill as the smaller boats venture along the coastline with smaller catches.malabarcoast3_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast8_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast5_lopamudratalukdarBut apart from the actual activity, what appealed to me personally was the hospitality of the fishing community in this part of Karnataka. While they were initially curious about my project, they would soon settle down and go about their job and let me do mine. Interestingly, I found out that the fishing community in this coastal belt had a language of its own – Tulu, which is distinct from Kannada spoken elsewhere in the state. But language was never a barrier as smiles exchanged can go a long way in bridging barriers.malabarcoast12_lopamudratalukdarmalabarcoast13_lopamudratalukdar

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