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Decreasing Yellowfin Sizes Affecting Tuna Prices

A significant drop in the quantity of big yellowfin tuna being caught by the fishermen of Vizag, India, has hit profits. Handline fishermen are increasingly hooking smaller yellowfin.  The larger the yellowfin, the higher its value on the market.

Vizag is a port city on the southeast coast of India. It is one of India’s largest seaports and is home to the country’s oldest shipyard.

“When we go fishing, we are able to return with 200-250kg. Nowadays, 100-150kg of this is small fish whose rates are very low when compared to bigger fish,” said S Appanna, a traditional fisherman working at Fishing Harbour. He explained that due to the drop in marine catch, fishermen these days are forced to travel further into the sea that translates into more time and money spent on a trip.

“As we spend more on a trip, the quality of catch is significant for the business to run profitably,” Appanna explained. “Large fish such as tuna on an average costs around Rs 150 per kg while the smaller variety is sometimes sold for as little as Rs 80-100 (USD 1.30-1.62) per basket of 8-10kg,” he said. He also expressed concern at the loss of big fish as tuna catch is mostly available from October to January.

Attributing the problem to climate change, Fisherfolk Foundation executive director Arjili Dasu said, “Most of the smaller fish catch comprises Silver Belly, Sardines, Small mackerel and Ribbon fish. These four and Goat Fish are mainly used in poultry feed and the fishermen get a very low price for the catch.” Small fish can get accustomed to warmer waters, but the quantity of bigger fish is dropping because of pollution and warmer climatic conditions, he asserted.

However, the principal scientist and scientist-in-charge at Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), M M Prasad, said that the fishing nets being used that do not allow small fish to escape are the main cause for the trend. “Fishermen are using nets with width of less than 5 mm and it becomes difficult for small fish to escape from the nets,” he said.

“Nowadays, fishermen are facing a drop in catch and are thus changing the nets so that they can catch whatever is available,” said Prasad.
“Dependence on the sea has increased tremendously over the years. The number of vessels involved in fishing has shot up and now even tuna that are about to lay eggs get caught in the nets,” he said and warned that unless fishermen adopt a cautious approach in choosing the gear, they will continue to get smaller fish catch. CIFT scientist Raghu Prakash said that there was a need to use fishing gear with square shaped mesh instead of the tiny diamond shaped mesh currently used by fishermen. 
Prakash said that in order to ensure that fishermen adopt environmentally-friendly fishing gear to improve catch, awareness of the problem needs to be increased.