Changing Practice in the Madras Marine Fisheries: Legacies of the Fish Curing Yards
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This chapter is concerned with the ways in which institutional change in the structure of artisanal fisheries in colonial South Asia affected the position of those engaged in the industry. It examines the ‘experiment’ undertaken in the coastal districts of Madras Presidency in specially-instituted Fish-Curing Yards (FCY). These yards were promoted as a solution to the problems caused by the colonial government’s Salt Tax, which increased greatly the price of salt needed to cure catches. The FCY soon became a central part of the structure of coastal fisheries in the Presidency. Government regulations, which officials claimed were established for the benefit of the fishers, meant that the yards brought fundamental changes to the structures and operations on the relations of production within the fishing industry, although it was curers, rather than the fishers, who became the real beneficiaries of the FCY. Curers emerged as the key players in the yards as they gained control of the entire curing process, from catching to curing to the sale and export to markets. The corollary of the strengthening of the curers’ position was the marginalization of the members of the traditional fishing communities and the breakdown of their traditional role in sustaining the community. As a result, over the first 40 years of the introduction and development of the FCYs, traditional small-scale fishers came to be increasingly thought of as the ‘problem’ in Indian fisheries, and in time, officials saw the need for programmes of ‘reform’ and ‘improvement’ to change Indian fisheries.
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