Although most seafood consumers know that fishing is banned in the monsoon and many avoid eating seafood during this period, that knowledge is not enough to promote sustainable consumption, according to the co-founders of ‘Know Your Fish’, a website that works to promote ocean-friendly eating habits.
Know Your Fish (https://www.knowyourfish.org.in/) is a monthly calendar about which fish to avoid or choose based on breeding seasons and populations. It was launched in 2017.
Banking on the consumers, Pooja Rathod, Mayuresh Gangal and Chetana Purushotham— alumni of National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru — launched the website after three years of research. The idea for the website came when a restaurateur approached them for suggestions on appropriate fish to serve in 2014.
There is a 61-day (June 1 to July 31) annual fishing ban on the west coast of the country. It was formulated to help regenerate marine fisheries in the Indian waters, where the monsoon season creates a conducive environment for fish spawning, and is crucial to protect the marine habitat during the reproduction period.
However, to combat the depleting catch, fishermen from Gujarat have sought an increase in the fishing ban to 91-120 days.
“The fisheries department should have a detailed discussion with scientists on the breeding period of different fish and have a monsoon ban accordingly. For example, the breeding period of pomfret is in May, while others start in June. We can have a two-month ban in the monsoon, and another in January and February. This way we can keep the depletion in fish catch in check,” said Devendra Tandel, president of the state fisheries association.
The Know Your Fish (KYF) team is hoping that informed choices and updated eating habits will lead to a change in demand and eventually to fishing practices. “Addressing the issue of overfishing requires action from multiple fronts. Through KYF we can sensitise people, build a ‘human constituency’ for marine ecosystems, and if a majority of seafood consumers follow such initiatives, they can impact the demand,” said Gangal, a marine biologist and one of the founders.
The group checked scientific data from the Central Marine Fisheries Institute and took assistance from friends and colleagues to help put together a website. They also assembled the calendar, highlighting 12 popular species. They also partnered with restaurants that have agreed to alter their menus to serve only fish that are in season.
KYF is adapting its approach based on feedback. On its website, it has asked citizens to report findings of eggs in the fish they caught/bought. “Some fish breed throughout the year, so we have asked citizens to avoid those fish in the peak breeding period. Secondly, the data with certain species is limited and through citizens’ initiatives, we can improve the information,” said Gangal.
Presenting the research in a simplified manner, the team is also working to make KYF more accessible and available in five languages that are widely spoken along the west coast.
In 2019, two studies warned that fish populations along Maharashtra’s coast could collapse because of overfishing and the killing of juvenile fish. Maharashtra recorded a major decline in marine fish landings catch at 32 per cent in 2019 from the previous year at 2.01 lakh tonnes, the lowest in the last 45 years, according to the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI). The CMFRI noted a decreasing trend in the catch in the last few years — in 2018 it was 2.95 lakh tonnes while in 2017 it was 3.81 lakh tonnes.
Bombay Duck or Bombil is rapidly disappearing from the city’s coastal waters (decline by 25% in the past decade) due to a combination of overfishing and climate change, says a study by CMFRI.