Titled ‘Ongi’, the documentary offers insight into the less highlighted struggles faced by artisanal fishermen due to the dolphins feeding on their catch and damaging their nets, thereby harming their livelihoods
“I have been studying humpback dolphins as part of my thesis. I realised that small-scale fishermen were often blamed for the death of dolphins, by getting caught in the nets, but the reality in Ramanathapuram district is that these humpback dolphins are a threat to the fishers’ livelihood. The humpback dolphins in the Gulf of Mannar region feed on the fish caught in the nets and damage them — leading to economic losses to the fishers. The documentary Ongi was shot as part of my thesis with a purpose of presenting the narrative that there is a need to not only protect the dolphins, but also to look at the fishermen’s livelihoods,” asserts Rahul in a conversation with DT Next.
The 18-minute short film, which was released last month, takes a viewer into the homes of fishermen residing in the villages of Olaikuda and Keelamunthal in Ramanathapuram district, where the conflict between fishermen and the dolphins is distinctly visible. “Dolphins also need to fish to survive and they are not able to find enough fish. So, they come towards small fish nets and feed on the catch. Dolphins, being highly intelligent beings, have adapted to feeding from fishing nets. But, this results in the fishers coming back to the shores with broken gear and being afraid to go fishing again. The fishermen are now disadvantaged when they’re at sea,” points out the researcher.
The primary problem is the declining fish catch, says Rahul. “These fishermen are dependent on fish for generations now and have traditionally been transferred their skillsets. The question that arises is how the near-shore fisheries can be revived and to see what we can do collectively in order to co-exist with the dolphins,” he remarks. The fish, which could be caught close to the shores years ago, are now very difficult to catch, notes one of the fishermen interviewed in the film. “When we hear the sound of the dolphins, we know that there will be no catch for that day. We begin retrieving our nets. Trawlers are not only catching all the fish, but are also destroying the habitat and the further reproduction of fish,” another fisher adds.