An evening at Chilaw Lagoon


November 17th, 2014

Recently, I visited one of our project sites in Sri Lanka – the Chilaw Lagoon. The “Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihood Project” is working with the lagoon fishers to establish a model for community-led lagoon governance simultaneously addressing livelihoods and natural resources issues. The project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, UK which is directly benefiting 20,000 fisher families in Sri Lanka.

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Lagoon fishers in action – putting stake net

We reached the lagoon in the evening, just in time to see the fishers arrive and put the stake net in the lagoon. They were geared with a locally made fishing craft, nets stakes and wig lamps. The leader of the group identified an appropriate place to put the net and the group started to fix the net as directed by the leader. It was almost dark by the time they completed fixing the net. For light, big wig lamps were hung above the net on the sticks – light is very important as the prawns and shrimps move towards the light.

Putting stake net is very cumbersome and requires a lot of effort but the fishermen have fun and enjoy the whole process. Usually the net fixing activities start in the evening around 7 pm and they wait for the catch until there is sign of in-flow from the sea to lagoon.

The stake net is placed according to out-flows (water moving from lagoon to sea) in the lagoon which is significantly affected by the cycles of the moon. On a full moon day, they fix about 8 stake-nets and will reduce to 1 or 2 during a normal moon day. During full moon, the out-flow (lagoon to sea) is higher and at this time fish and other aquatic creatures move towards the sea as they do not have to make any effort to reach the sea.

The net is monitored frequently to collect the catch. They usually look for high value species like wild prawns and shrimps. They celebrate their first catch by cooking and consuming the catch in a three stone hearth by the side of the lagoon. They enjoy the first catch with a hearty laughter. This motivates them to stay awake during the night as well as provides them strength and nutrition.

The first catch

The first catch

The whole process completes around mid-night. The collected catch then is sorted by the female members of the community. The middlemen wait until the catch is ready. They negotiate the price, make a payment to the fishers and take the catch to the market. A good catch can provide up to 40,000 Sri Lankan Rupees in a single day. The accumulated money is divided equally within the group members.

The project is working with such lagoon fisher communities in 18 lagoons. The lagoon fisher communities are fully dependent in the lagoons for their livelihoods so they are aware of the importance in preserving those resources which they have been utilising since hundreds of years. The community management measures for equal distribution of fish harvesting and inclusion and exclusion of lagoon catch harvesters to reduce fishing pressure and controlled fishing are some of the significant practices in the communities for sustainable harvest. The lagoon is self-governed by the community and the project is building the capacity of the fishers as well as the relevant government officers from different decision making levels and lagoon fishery market chain actors for collaborative governance of the lagoon.

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