Chilika is an integral part of the culture of coastal Orissa. Covering a vast area of more than 1000 sq km Chilika is the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia. Some of the very rare species of flora, fauna, mammals and birds are found in here. In fact, a large number of birds migrate to Chilika during winters. If you are lucky you might just spot dolphins at the southern end of the lake.
This was the first time Greenpeace India was working at Chilika and my role was to go out and inform the fishing community about the findings of the Greenpeace report, Other Fish in the Sea which documented fishermen’s opinions on Gahirmatha marine sanctuary.
Fisher folk communities of India are one of the strongest that I have ever come across. At Chilika, they are unified by Primary Fishermen Co-Operatives Forums (PFCF). There are more than 130 fishing villages in Chilika and the poor socio-economic conditions make the traditional fishermen dependent on the lake for their daily bread. At the same time its rich biodiversity needs protection and conservation. Greenpeace therefore reached Chilika with the message, 'Protect Eco-System and Right to Fish', emphasising that both are equally important for fishermen’s sustenance.
I reached Balugaon, a fishing village and one of the biggest fish markets on the western shore of Chilika. Initially, the fishing community hesitated and refused to speak to me. They asked me to talk to their community leaders. Then I met the Assistant Director of Fisheries Mr. Hemant and had a discussion with him. He in turn introduced us to the Presidents of the PFCF, Mr Vasant Nayak and Mr Murli Behera.
After that, our volunteers from Bhubaneswar and I spoke to a couple of fisher folk. We asked them what they thought about the co-existence of conservation with livelihoods. Many fishermen around Chilika have experienced how conservation can increase fish stocks, which is also the case along the periphery of the sanctuary in Gahirmatha. Many of them therefore agreed that conservation and livelihoods can co-exist.
This went on for a few days and finally on 18th July Greenpeace volunteers and local fishermen held a huge banner with the message ‘Protect Ecology, Right to Fish’. We had 20 boats in a formation around the banner and the letters of the message were stitched on the fishing net through which we displayed that conservation and livelihoods must go hand in hand for communities dependent on marine resources to sustain themselves.The message is clear, consultation and involvement of the community will go a long way in ensuring that harmony between their traditional rights and conservation efforts.
Image: © Greenpeace/Abhijit Pal