“Hi! My name is Fisherman John and welcome to Kochi.” An elderly man warmly greeted me with hands extended and a toothless smile. Behind John stood an imposing 50 foot A-Style frame fishing apparatus called Chinese fishing nets or locally known as Cheenavala. These towering structures are assembled with miscellaneous pieces of wood, seen better days rope, nails here and there, and steel tubes all of which looms over the great Indian Ocean like a miniature fragile oil rigs. Along the edge of Malabari Coast of India these towering homemade structures litter the edges of earth and water. At the waterfront at Vaso da Gama Square in Kochi one can still witness these massive apparatus being manned by friendly and hardworking fishermen.
A gathering of lethargic men assembled at the base of John’s Chinese fishing net talking and laughing loudly as they wait. This form of fishing was introduced in Kochi by a Chinese explorer called Zheng He between 1350 and 1450 AD and till this day it is a popular mode of fishing.
After our introductions Fisherman John bellowed something in Malayalam which set into motion a group of men to start pulling on these massive ropes in perfect harmony. As the massive suspended net rises from the deep it reveals its loot. A crab, two fishes and a whole bunch of plant material. As Fisherman John looks in disgust in the small haul, he began to explain the reasons why the low yield. Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) a beautiful flowering water lily native to the Amazon basin brought to India by the colonial rulers to beautify their palace ponds have found its way to the bay. Water Hyacinth is considered to be an oxygen addicted and it uses all of the oxygen in the waters it grows in and with less oxygen less fish.
When visiting Vasco da Gama Square it a must to meet folks like Fisherman John who can make your visit more interesting.