A place to live and fish: Relational place making among the trawl fishers of Palk Bay, India
In Palk Bay (India), fishing is intrinsically tied to a complex and dynamic geo-political situation. The trawl fishers from India are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in the bay due to the strict enforcement of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Sri Lanka Navy and the increasing animosity of the small scale gill netters of Northern Sri Lanka, who accuse the Indian trawlers of encroaching and destroying their livelihood. In the multi-scalar nature of this conflict, it is easy for policy makers and researchers to get distracted by processes happening at different scales (regional, national) thereby ignoring the local processes that shape everyday fishing. By analysing the everyday lives and lived places of the fishers in the two trawl centres of Rameswaram and Mandapam, this article exclusively focusses on the scale of the local. A closer look at these centres, located in close proximity to each other, reveals substantial differences in the way fisheries are managed. The objective of this paper is to understand how one of these centres is able to manage its fleet better (better price for fishes, lower discards and higher compliance) than the other, increasing understanding of the dynamics of resource usage in Palk Bay to give clues for possible solutions. Through the ethnographic method, the research uses the concept of relational place making in analysing local fishery resource usage. By dialectically analysing the various social, political and economic processes both on land and at sea in each these centres, I conclude that the differences in management between them are an outcome of a series of complex interactions between several processes. Based on my analysis, I argue that the mismanagement of the Rameswaram fleet and the better managed Mandapam fleet cannot be attributed only to the relative strength of the institutional set up on land but should also take into consideration the conditions at sea. Thus, managing a complex fishery system requires a better understanding of the interaction of various processes that happen at different places of concern to the everyday lives of the fishers, moving beyond the limited narrow focus of several place based studies which focus on a singular place, social group and scale.