Prawn seed fishing is a prominent river-bank occupation in the Sundarbans, done mostly by the women and children who are usually forced to do it to supplement the meagre income of their families. (Men usually are engaged in honey collection, boat-fishing, pulling rickshaws, mono-crop agriculture etc)
A rectangular net, as seen in pic, is immersed in the water and dragged along where the women (or children) wade through the clay bed in chest high water.
The almost thread like Prawn seed that get caught in the net are separated and sold to middlemen who then sell it to the Prawn farms. For a collection of 1000 seeds, which I noticed are counted painstakingly, a princely sum of Rs 150 is paid.
Sadly, everything else that happens to get caught in the net is thrown away on the banks… leading to a huge waste of marine life and thereby, impacting the food chain.
The seeds of Mangrove trees along the banks are destroyed too, thereby preventing regeneration of mangrove trees along the banks. This could have a larger impact on the ecosystem.
Also, since these people often spend 4-5 hours everyday immersed almost fully in saline water, they expose themselves to shark bites and skin diseases… said the forest official!
However, without any other means to supplement the family income, these people are left without any choice but to continue doing the drag-net fishing. Efforts by the forest officials haven’t been successful and one can still see a lot of women & children engaged in this activity in the evenings every day near the banks!
It is a debatable point whether these people who have always lived off the forest and in unison with it are causing any harm to the environment or if the ‘educated officials’ of the forest department are the ones doing more damage by attempting to rehabilitate these people. Remember, these people have been attached more to the land than anyone else and many, if not all, of their practises and customs do reflect it.