Chennai fisherfolk explain the connection between climate, oceanographic factors and fish catch

Fisherfolk and climate change
Fisherfolk and climate change

Climate change could have a strong impact on fisheries with far-reaching consequences on food and livelihoods of populations. It is likely to have a major impact on future marine fisheries production in India. However, very little understanding exists on the how fishing communities, the actual stakeholders involved in the process, perceive climate change and cope with its impacts in relation to their fishing output and consequently their livelihoods.

The paper titled 'Indigenous Technical Knowledge (ITK) of coastal fisherfolk on climate change - a case study in Chennai, south-east coast of India' published in the Indian Journal of Fisheries', informs that fishermen have excellent knowledge on the relationship between climatic as well as oceanographic factors and their impact on fish catch. This Indigenous Technical Knowledge (ITK) often referred to as local or traditional knowledge includes the skills, beliefs, norms, practices and behavioural patterns handed down from one generation to the next. This knowledge is very essential to them since their livelihood directly depends on the availability of fish resources.

The fisherfolk's unique skills are useful to track seasonal and spatial variations in fish availability in relation to variations in climatic conditions such as speed and direction of wind and current, water mass movement and upwelling. It is also useful to make short-term predictions on fish availability, distribution and spawning. This knowledge enables them to adjust their fishing activities according to the species being exploited, location of the fishing grounds and the gear being used.

Perceptions of fisherfolk about climate change: The study

The paper argues that it is important to understand how fishing communities cope with and adapt to fisheries in the context of the extreme natural variations that come with climate change as this would assist in developing adaptation strategies in the future. It discusses the findings of a study that collected information on the the Indigenous Technical Knowledge of fisherfolk and their perceptions on the impact of climate change on fishing.

The study documented the knowledge of the fishermen on gear and craft design, fish behaviour, identification of fish shoal, and prediction of oceanographic parameters such as weather, wind, rainfall, cyclone, and tide level, and aimed at effectively combining this knowledge with modern technical knowledge to gain a better understanding on climate change. For this, data was collected by conducting a survey among 200 coastal fishermen in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

Findings of the study

It found that:

  • The fishermen were of the opinion that major changes in climatic parameters had occurred in the last 10 years, particularly after the tsunami in 2004. Fishermen ranked wind direction/speed as the most important climatic parameter that had changed significantly over the years followed by temperature and current.
  • They pointed out that though climate change was one of the reasons for declining fish catch, the major reason was overfishing by mechanised trawlers using Chinese engines and exploitation of juveniles.
  • The fisherfolk said that they found it very difficult to predict climatic events like in earlier years due to large unexpected seasonal variations. For example, they were unable to understand the current flow direction as it was very irregular and unpredictable due to rough ocean conditions, which led to difficulty in predicting fish availability.
  • Fishermen suggested that the government should bring regulations on craft, gear, period, fish species and related aspects, to maintain sustainable fishing.