The net may be the first thing a fisherman picks up before heading to sea. These days, however, thereâs one other thing that he canât leave behind: his hand-held GPS. From the beginning of time, fishermen have been banking on two resources for guidance: water and air. They use water current, its temperature, the direction of wind and its humidity to lead them when they go fishing. Now, however, GPS does the same work for them.
âThe Government gave 700 fishermen in our region walkie-talkies with built-in GPS in 2018,â says P Ethiraj, a fisherman who owns a fibreboat in Pulicat, 54 kilometres from Chennai. âThe authorities have also fixed an antenna inside the premises of our market to support these walkie-talkies.â Ethirajâs fibreboat is powered by a 10 HP engine. âIn the past, most of us went by our instinct to a spot for fishing. But that didnât always promise us a good catch. With GPS, however, we are mostly always rewarded,â explains the 50-year-old.
The ABCs of fishing tech
âWe connect with fishermen on boats nearby over walkie-talkie; they lead us to spots where we are likely to find plenty of fish. Their directions are in the form of points from their GPS that we follow,â says Ethiraj. âWeâve been making good profits, thanks to this technology.â
Earnings apart, Ethiraj says that their GPS-enabled walkie-talkies have also saved lives. âRecently one night, fishermen from my village called for help while they were stranded at deep sea and we rushed to rescue them.â Ethiraj points out that these systems can also be used to contact the Coast Guard or bigger boats in case of an emergency.
According to author R N Joe DâCruz, who has written extensively on the fishing community, and is also the CEO of a shipping company in Chennai, our countryâs fishermen have been using GPS for the past 10 years. âBoats over 80 feet long involved in deep-sea fishing, use RADAR, echo sounding, as well as GPS,â he says. âTheir economies allow them to invest in such technologies,â he explains.
Yugraj Singh Yadava, Director, Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation and, Project Manager, World Bank Ocean Partnership for Sustainable Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation â Bay of Bengal Project, says that fish finders and VHF (for communication) are also among the âcommon toolsâ for fishermen. Yadava says fishermen also use mobile phones in communication and trade. âHowever, connectivity is limited to 10 to 12 nautical miles from the shore,â he explains.
A small section of the community is still untouched by technology. âArtisanal fishermen who use non-motorised boats and fish at near-shore waters (around eight to 10 nautical miles from the shore) rely on lighthouses, stars, and city lights, and of course on their intuition,â explains Yadava. This, he believes, is âa strand of DNA in the genes they inherit from their forefathersâ.
However, Joe fears that such traditional knowledge is fast disappearing. âSome 30 years ago, fishermen would secure their nets at one spot at sea and return the next day to collect it.â This was when GPS was unheard of. How did they know exactly where theyâd find their nets? âThey used landmarks on land,â explains Joe. A hill, a sliver of a waterfall, a peak that slightly sloped towards the rightâŚ these where their markers.
âNow that GPS has taken over, there is the risk of such practices not being passed on,â feels Joe. But there is also a positive side to this. âFishing, like farming, is drawing a lot of educated youngsters who want to keep in touch with their roots. These people are able to combine technology and traditional knowledge.â But what is more important, according to Joe, is that the Government invests in technology that forecasts weather with clarity, so that fishermen know exactly when to head to sea and when to keep off it.