Exploring fishermen’s local knowledge and perceptions in the face of climate change: the case of coastal Tamil Nadu, India

Abstract

Fishers’ local knowledge and their perceptions of climate change are increasingly recognized by researchers and international institutions. However, in India, limited regional studies are available to understand the fishers’ local knowledge, and a crucial question which largely remained unaddressed has been how fishers perceive the relevance of their local knowledge systems in the face of climate change. Provided this background, this paper aims to explore the fishermen’s local knowledge and their climate perceptions in the face of climate change. This paper has employed the data that were obtained by in-depth interviews and focus-group discussions with the small-scale fishermen of three highly vulnerable fishing villages of Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu. The marine fishers across this coast were the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster, several major cyclones, and various weather and climate events for over the last four decades. Key results show (1) fishermen perceive multiple aberrations and anomalies in the weather and climate patterns for over the previous three to four decades, particularly after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster. (2) The next finding is contrary to the conventional understandings, in which we have found that the fishermen are increasingly felt and experienced that their local knowledge is no longer adequately relevant in the face of climate change. Thus, for promoting the adaptive capacity of fishers, this paper has suggested that fishermen’s perceptions and their expectations should be appropriately recognized and there is a strong need to provide scientific assistance to the fishermen through proper channels to respond to climate change impacts.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Source: field survey and analysis

Notes

  1. 1.

    “Pattinavars” are the dominant marine fishing caste who inhabit in the fishing villages of the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

  2. 2.

    The percentage is an approximate one because of the following reasons. (1) In the fieldwork, it was found that around 30% of the respondents who participated in the study were hesitant to share exact ownership details of their fishing assets. (2) Few fishermen owned non-motorized catamaran boats. They, however, preferred to work as fishing workers as fishing is an ‘uncertain’ occupation. In a few cases, fishermen owned just fishing gears, but not fishing vessels. Besides, in this paper, the socioeconomic data of the respondents and the fishing villages that we have shown come from the field survey of the author, and it is an approximate one as the details were collected from the local leaders and senior fishermen. It should be noted that there are no very recent, accurate data available regarding ownership details of fishing vessels and gear and the details of migrants in the small fishing villages of the Coromandel Coast in Tamil Nadu.

  3. 3.

    Primary data were entirely collected by the first author of this paper as a part of his Ph.D. research. The fourth and fifth sections of this paper are largely derived from the unpublished Ph.D. thesis of the first author since the paper used the data from the same study.

  4. 4.

    Throughout the paper, we have used the term ‘fishermen’, instead of the gender-neutral term ‘fishers’ as this paper has utilized the data that were collected from fishermen.

  5. 5.

    Seasonal migration of small-scale fishermen along the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu to the foreign countries has become the widespread phenomenon for over the last few decades. Primarily, fishermen migrate out due to insufficient income, declining fish catch and other economic reasons. Hence, it was challenging to identify the senior fishermen who have rich fishing experience.

  6. 6.

    The ‘community lingo’ of fishermen was transliterated from Tamil to English. We have italicized the ‘community lingo’ of fishermen.

  7. 7.

    Fishers of the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu consider October to December as the “rough season.” Nagapattinam district is frequently affected due to northeast monsoon. Field survey showed that, at least once in three or 4 years, this district is fiercely affected by cyclonic storms/flooding/massive rains.

  8. 8.

    One “thalai vaaram” denotes approximately 20 km. Source: field survey.

  9. 9.

    The period of fishing ban differs between the west coast and east coast of India. It is being imposed by the state governments of India to all the mechanized fishing vessels (but not traditional fishing vessels) to enable fish breeding in the seas. In Tamil Nadu, every year, this seasonal closure usually commences from April 15 to May 29. (It has recently been extended until June 15, 2017, by the state government.)

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Madhanagopal, D., Pattanaik, S. Exploring fishermen’s local knowledge and perceptions in the face of climate change: the case of coastal Tamil Nadu, India. Environ Dev Sustain 22, 3461–3489 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-019-00354-z

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Keywords

  • Fishermen
  • Local knowledge
  • Climate change
  • Climate perceptions
  • Tamil Nadu
  • India