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Using information and technology to help improve the lives of the fishing community

A mega awareness campaign was organised as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav Programme at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, to reach out to the fisher families of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and to enhance the awareness and dissemination of ocean information and advisory services to the fishing community in India 

A mega awareness campaign on Ocean Information and Advisory Services was organised by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) in collaboration with the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai on August 11 at the MSSRF campus. The campaign included a technical session in Tamil, panel discussions with fishermen users to understand their needs, issues and future requirements on this important area, lectures from collaborators (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry State Fishery Departments, Indian Coast Guard, Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical & Engineering Training, Central institute of Fisheries Technology, Fisheries Survey of India andCentral Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture) who help fishers with safety and livelihood security.

Inaugurating the programme, Tamilisai Soundararajan, Telangana Governer and Puducherry Lt Governor, emphasised that ocean information and advisory services should reach every small and marginal fisherman in India. Felicitating eight Fisher Friend Master Trainers from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry at the inauguration function, she praised their effort in building awareness about the Fisher Friend Mobile Application (FFMA) within the fisher community. FFMA is an Android-based application through which dynamic information on ocean state forecasts and weather forecasts are provided to fishermen to help them make informed decisions when venturing into the sea.

Speaking about her own experiences with fisher families in Chennai, Tamilisai Soundararajan said: “We need to listen to the needs and expectations of the fishermen and fisherwomen, and help them appreciate that technology can support them as well as address their problems. Ocean information and advisory services should reach all fishermen. The Blue Economy is a priority for the government and fishing communities need our support.” She noted that information, communication and technology go hand-in-hand with partnerships and collaborations, especially when the goal is to make the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities better. Referring to the Fisher Friend Mobile Application managed by INCOIS, Qualcomm and MSSRF, she added, “A single window solution for the holistic shore-to-shore needs of the fishing community provides immediate access to critical, real-time knowledge and information services that protect the fishermen.”

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, MSSRF Chairperson, said that the Fish for All Research and Training Centre at Poompuhar, which began after the Tsunami of 2004, strengthens the capacities of fishermen and women from coastal communities while prioritising natural resource management, sustainable livelihood options, as well as disaster preparedness and management. “The mega awareness campaign on ocean information and advisory services is a timely initiative under Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav Programme by the Government of India to develop capacity of younger generation fishers,” she said.

The governor later visited the stalls at the venue and interacted with fisherwomen. She showed keen interest in the ghost (fishing) gear and dry fish initiatives that enhance livelihood security for coastal women. The event was attended by around 300 fishermen and women from nine coastal districts in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

M. Sakthivel, a small craft fisherman from T R Pattinam Village, Karaikal District, Puducherry, while recognising the usefulness of the information services via the Fisher Friend Mobile App, requested for quicker frequency of information with regard to water currents and mid-sea weather changes.

R. Jeyabaskaran, director general, Fishery Survey of India, Mumbai, was the guest of honour at the event. Special remarks were delivered by D. Senthil Pandian, joint secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India.

Background

Majority of fisher families in India belong to small and artisanal fishing category. The Tsunami of December 26, 2004 came as a rude shock to them which caused a great fear and uncertainty in the minds of the fishers to set out into the sea. It is under such conditions Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, Ministry of Earth Science, Government of India and Fish for All Research and Training Centre of M S Swaminathan Research Foundation has partnered and initiated a programme of knowledge empowerment of fisher communities with reference to Ocean State Forecast (OSF) and information on the possible locations where they can find large fish shoals. This has enabled both MSSRF and INCOIS join and develop an integrated package of shore-to-shore based knowledge services to fishers and empower them for making informed fishing.

INCOIS – Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services provides very useful information such as Potential Fishing Zones (PFZ) Advisories, Early Warning System for Tsunami and Storm Surges, Ocean State Forecasts (OSFs), High Wave Alerts/ Warnings, Search and Rescue Aided Tool (SARAT), Online Oil Spill Advisory Services, Small Vessel Advisory Services (SVAS), Marine Heat Wave Advisories, Coral Bleaching Alerts System (CBAS), Algal Bloom Information Services (ABIS), etc. for improving the livelihood of the fishers particularly the small scale fishers.

MSSRF – Fish for All Research and Training Centre is a post-Tsunami rehabilitation initiative by Prof M.S. Swaminathan with the support of Tata Trust. The centre is located in Poompuhar Fishing Village, Mayiladuthurai District of Tamil Nadu. The main focus of the centre is to provide solutions for the issues and challenges faced by the small and marginal fisher families in the following areas. Strengthening and diversifying of livelihoods and identifying alternative avocation for coastal communities and add value to the process chain- capture/culture, commercialisation, and consumption by involving all the stakeholders and associated multiple institutions. The programme specially focuses on women, artisans, non-traditional fishers, fish vendors, and fishing laborers among other producer groups. The Fish for All Research and Training Centre was dedicated to the coastal communities of the nation on 26thDecember 2009, which also marked the fifth anniversary of the tsunami hitting the Indian coast.  

Since 2009, MSSRF has partnered with INCOIS to build the capacity of the fishers to utilise theservices effectively for their economic development and safe fishing at sea. Today, more than 1.5 lakhs fishers from 632 coastal villages are aware of these services and are receiving locale specific scientific forecast services such as PFZ, Ocean State Forecast and early warning information generated at INCOIS through recent advancement in the area of digital ICT tools. One of the key tools is the android based PAN India Fisher Friend Mobile Application which is now used by more than two lakhs fishers from West Bengal to Gujarat. The software was developed with the support and inputs of Qualcomm Wireless Reach and INCOIS.

Interactions with fishers have revealed that the ocean information, particularly wave height and wind speed, assist them in taking practical decisions and planning several aspects of their fishing activity:

  • to avoid venturing into the sea
  • to decide their fishing location and direction
  • to delay or start early for fishing
  • to speed up their return to their shores
  • to take precautionary measures during heavy wind and cyclone times by anchoring the boat to a safe place or if they are in the sea to move towards a nearby shore or anchor in a safe spot in the sea or on the shore and so on
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