Oil sardine production has been affected by ecological modifications stemming from the El Nino outbreak, which impacted normal spawning as well as growth of the species.

There is bad news for Kerala fish-lovers and more than two lakh traditional fishers in the State as the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute warned that the availability of Indian oil sardine will remain low this year too, continuing the firm trend visible over the last two years.

“Indian oil sardine famine along the Kerala coast will continue like the last two years”, said the CMFRI forecast as the institute called for “utmost caution” in harvesting the fish.

Charles George, representing the more than two lakh traditional fishers, said that the sardine economy, even at its lowest price level is worth more than ₹1 crore a year. Besides the fishers, there are thousands who are engaged in sales and ancillary activities related to the sardine economy, he said.

According to fisheries industry sources, the oil sardine economy has lost substantially over the last six years owing to the steep fall in catch. The wages of sardine fishers has come down from ₹88,000 a year in 2012 to ₹45,000 a year in 2018, Mr. Charles George claimed.

For the Kerala fish-eater, it is bad news because oil sardines, as a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, combine the quality of an in-vogue health food, as well as feed the poor at prices ranging from ₹60 to ₹100 a kg in normal times. But the scarcity of oil sardines over the years has tended to push up the price to about ₹150 a kg with even imports from other States as well as Oman substituting for the local catch.

It is estimated that fish consumption in Kerala is 25 to 30 kgs per head per year, which is four times the national average. Oil sardines constitute about 30% of the fish consumption.

CMFRI scientists said oil sardine production had been affected by ecological modifications stemming from the El Nino outbreak, which impacted normal spawning as well as growth of the species.

“At this critical period, along with abstaining from juvenile fishing, utmost care should be exercised to spare matured spawning stocks to allow them release the eggs”, they added.

CMFRI figures showed that Kerala’s fish landings went down 15% last year with sharp decline in oil sardine and Indian mackerel catch. The total fish landing in the State was 5.44 lakh tonnes. Oil sardine catch dropped to 44,320 tonnes, the lowest in two decades while Indian mackerel catch stood at 40,554 tonnes, which is a steep decline of 50% compared to the previous year.

For the fishers it has been nearly a decade of uncertainty as the sardine economy fluctuated between landings of 3.9 lakh tonnes in 2012 and less than 50,000 tonnes last year.

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