Fishing has been the traditional occupation of the Kaivarta community since the time of human habitation on the island. The land form, its water level, aquatic plants and seasonal variations are the guiding and significant factors of the occupation. It plays a significant role in maintaining the natural cycle and hence sustaining the ecological value of the area. Fishing is one of the main sources of livelihood for a section of people in Majuli. It is practiced by mostly scheduled caste and tribes like Mishings and Deories. The different types of water bodies of Majuli Island are the main resources. They include the wet land, marshy land, ponds, rivulets etc. Different fishing techniques have been evolved by man based on the level of water and probability of fishes.
The techniques employed for fishing change with the change in season. Hence, the tools used for fishing also vary according to requirements in each season. Usually during floods fishing is prohibited as it is time for fertilization and migration of fishes into depressions. Occasional fishing is practiced by the communities. They prepare special fishing traps like polo, dingora etc.
Community fishing i.e. by using small baskets is low during this season. Fish traps are especially made and put along the embankments against the water flow. During post monsoon season, water level in different water bodies recedes and it allows fishing. In this season fishermen are predominantly dependent of wet lands and marshy land. The scale of fishing increases and they get used for commercial purposes. Fishes collected from flowing water channels are prepared as dried fish for its consumption at local level as well as for commercial purposes. Bamboo bed is prepared at the river bank for drying of fishes. This is predominantly carried out by Mishing and Deoris. During winter season fishing becomes predominant. Fish is one of the most marketed commodities during this time.
TRADITIONAL TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
Different traditional instruments have been designed at local level for fishing in different areas. The tools have been designed as per the water level and probability of getting fishes of different types. Varieties of fishing nets are as following:
Some of the traditional fish catching instruments used by the communities in Majuli are:
There are a wide variety of fish that are available in Majlui, for example Alced atthis, ceryle rudis, Bubulus ibis, Dendrcygna Javanica etc. Fishery is one of the most important sectors contributing to the economy, employment generation and trade of Majuli. It is one of the main food items for some people of Majuli. The traditional knowledge base of fishing is known by majority of inhabitants. There are communities whose main occupation is predominantly fishing and they are named accordingly. Majority of residential units of Majuli have a small pond either at the back yard of their house or a pond is located along the road side which feeds three to four residential units. Fish being the staple food item for people is practiced both on a small and a large scale. Large water bodies like beels are used for community fishing. Traditional techniques of fishing are predominantly practiced in Majuli like use of traditional nets and tools to catch fish according to the seasonal variation.
Material Resource Base
The location of the island supports the existence of a variety of fishes. During the annual floods, the fish migrate from the Brahmaputra River into the island, in the beels, wetlands, low lying areas etc. and after the floods recede, Majuli becomes the abode for fishes and it creates a large fishing stock. Nearly 1250 ha of area is under fishery in Majuli with the annual production of 1400 MT. The main fishing centers in Majuli are Jengraimukh, Bali Chapori, Garamur and Kamalabari. More than 50% of the produce is sent to Jorhat and a large percentage of fish produce is sold in the Nagaland fish markets.
However the current regulations and system of management are not conducive to sustainable production from these water bodies. It is resulting in overexploitation and degradation.
The ecological degradation of bils started with the arrival of the water hyacinth a century ago. Rampant growth of this fast-growing weed obstructs the penetration of sunlight, inhibiting plankton growth and contributing to eutrophication by slowing down water currents and depositing debris at the bottom. The second phase of enhanced eutrophication resulted from the construction of embankments along almost the entire length of the river Brahmaputra and many of its tributaries after the devastating earthquake of 1950. These levees substantially reduced the periodic flushing by monsoon floods. The final onslaught on the wetlands has been from human activities such as buffalo and cattle rearing, agriculture and horticulture, and overfishing.