Safeguarding India’s itinerant maritime fisheries labour

This project is funded by extra-budgetary resources provided by the Government of Canada.
  • Amount funded: £29,997
  • Year: 2021
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Locations: India
  • Grant stream: Annual Grants Call

Fishing communities in India faced multiple hardships and increased risk of Covid-19 infection while stranded for long periods of time in distant harbours during lockdowns, despite civil society attempts to supplement government-led support packages.

Project partners
Dakshin Foundation
Social Need Education and Human Awareness
United Artists Association
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How we are helping

This project will build partnerships between civil society and government to promote integrated risk reduction policies for migrant fishers and to build resilience in fishing communities.

About the project

Seasonal migration of small-scale fishers to distant mechanised harbours is common in India due to rising input costs, the seasonal nature of fisheries and growing uncertainty of catch from ecological shifts and marine resource degradation.

Lockdowns imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the precariousness of this itinerant labour, thousands of whom were stranded for weeks in harbours without food, sanitation or information. Lack of data on migrant fishworkers hindered relief efforts.

Inability to catch or sell fish during lockdown caused significant economic and psychological distress among small-scale fishers; many faced additional challenges accessing the government’s fisheries support package due to a lack of requisite documentation, information or ability to advocate their needs.

Limited information networks within fishing communities raised the risk of infection and reduced access to treatment. Cultural and living conditions — dense settlements, irregular water supply, absence of health care, high mobility dependency — further amplified the issue.

This project aims to strengthen the support system for migrant fishworkers, improve information exchange and promote inclusive coastal leadership.

It will achieve this by:

  • Creating a robust database of migrant fishworkers for use by local fisheries institutions and issuing secure digital dockets to enable access to benefits and emergency aid.
  • Generating awareness among migrant fishworkers of their rights and building capacities to advance such rights in partnership with local NGOs and fisher unions, aided by support from national level civil society networks.
  • Mediating with local self-government bodies (panchayats), district and state fisheries to utilise available local Covid-19 relief funds for enhancing migrant fishworker databases.
  • Raising awareness among fisheries departments, home-fisher associations and (host state) boat owner associations about the rights of migrant fishworker labour and the needs for improved working conditions.
  • Raising public awareness through web-based news and media outlets on the formalisation of migrant fishworker labour.
  • Outreach and communication with district, state and national fisheries departments for reforms on Integrated Life and Livelihood Insurance for migrant fishworkers.
  • Supporting complementary networks and civil society groups working at the national level with advice on legislative reform related to migrant fishworkers.
  • Strengthening alternative communications networks (interactive voice response systems, WhatsApp groups, and secure social media) for sharing information on schemes, policies, and rights among migrant fishworkers.
  • Delivering training on rights and policies relevant to marine and coastal spaces and communities among youth, women and union leaders from fishing communities.
  • Improving digital advocacy skills and access to web-based state advisories, notices and data among women, youth and union leaders by creating a grassroots fellowship.
Project Partners
Dakshin Foundation

Dakshin Foundation (DF) is a registered charitable non-profit organisation established in 2008 with a mission to inform and advocate conservation and natural resource management, while promoting and supporting sustainable livelihoods, social development and environmental justice. Using multidisciplinary approaches, DF works across coastal geographies, with diverse groups of local resource dependent communities and stakeholders to undertake monitoring of anthropogenic environmental impacts, and ecosystem use, decision-making within environmental governance regimes, school-based environment education, and innovative public engagement. DF actively supports the National Fishworkers’ Forum and national and state-level civil society networks on environmental governance.

Social Need Education and Human Awareness

Social Need Education and Human Awareness (SNEHA) was established in 1984 and works along the East Coast of India in coastal villages of Nagapattinam and Karaikal districts in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. SNEHA’s main beneficiaries are fishers and other communities (including Dalits) who are dependent on coastal and marine resources for their livelihood. SNEHA’s interventions have historically focused on women and children with activities in environmental conservation, disaster resilience and policy engagement. SNEHA facilitated the formation of local institutions such as women sangams, self-help groups, taluk and district level federations for the empowerment of women in development and governance processes.

United Artists Association

United Artists Association (UAA) was established in 1964 to help people affected by natural disasters and to further efforts in starting educational institutions. UAA focuses on community development and women’s empowerment among the most marginalised communities of Odisha, targeting marine fishers, tribal communities and agricultural labourers. Focal areas are resource rights, sustainable agriculture, fisheries development and health and sanitation. UAA has created and facilitated ‘Samudram’, a state-level federation of women fishworkers’ organisations in Odisha which won the Equator Award for efforts in empowerment of fisherwomen, protection of coastal and marine biodiversity and value-addition and income generation on sustainable SSF fisheries.

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