Chinese fishing nets (Cheena vala) are to Kochi what the painted face of a Kathakali actor is to the state of Kerala in promoting tourism. These are shore operated lift nets operated by a group of fishermen in Kochi, Vypeen and Cherai in Kerala and is a symbol of Kochi as a prominent place among honeymoon spots in Kerala.
Origin of Chinese Fishing Nets
The nets may have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He as per historic records. These antique fishing nets that provide Kochi with its signature style had made their way to Kerala around the 13th century when there was trade between Malabar and China. Each structure is at least 10 meter high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end.
How are the Chinese fishing nets used for fishing>
Some describe it as the most non-violent form of fishing; anglers expect fish to swim into their immersed net, before they can lift up the catch. The net, hung on spindles from a cantilever and dropped into the estuary/lake, stays submerged till the fishermen are sure that enough fish have landed. Then, the net is lifted, trapping the unsuspecting fish.Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen or four fishermen.
The system is sufficiently balanced that the weight of a man walking along the main beam is sufficient to cause the net to descend into the sea. The net is left for a short time, possibly just a few minutes, before it is raised by pulling on ropes. The catch is usually modest: a few fish and crustaceans — these may be sold to passers by or tourists within minutes. Rocks of various weights, each 50 cm or so in diameter are suspended from ropes of different lengths. As the net is raised, some of the rocks one-by-one come to rest on a platform thereby keeping everything in balance.
Tourism and Chinese Fishing nets
The Chinese fishing nets are a symbol of Kochi and have become a very popular tourist attraction, their size and elegant construction is photogenic and the slow rhythm of their operation is quite hypnotic. In addition, catches can be purchased individually and need be taken only a short distance to a street entrepreneur who will cook it.
Chinese Fishing Nets – Current Scenario
The nets are great symbols of our culture and history and Chinese fishing nets are the living monuments of Kochi and most of the Chinese fishing nets are owned and operated by private owners even though these are used as a symbol of Kerala Tourism. There are two types of nets — those operated by six people and those operated by four. Their number has come down over the years and unless we take urgent steps, they may lose their character and also their original purpose.The private owners of the nets, which are still being used to catch fish, had been reinforcing them every decade or so, making them stronger and larger losing the traditional style. A few of the fishing nets have iron pipes in place of the original teak wood, much to the consternation of heritage buffs. About 165 people in Fort Kochi earn a livelihood with the help of these nets which are also there in Vypeen and Cherai. When authorities deepened the channel for the Vallarpadam container terminal, the catch of fish through Chinese fishing nets was reduced and unless steps are taken to preserve the nets and help the fishermen, the tradition may die down and one of the major attractions in the many moods of Fort kochi may die down.