Nothing dry about this fish

Nothing dry about this fish

A woman engaged in selling dry fish. DH photo/Chandrahas KotekarDrying removes the moisture that bacteria, yeast and fungi need to grow. Fruit, spices, few vegetables and meats, fish are the most common foods selected for drying in the country.

In South India, the drying of fish is a local practice. The smell of the dried salted fish stewing in a pot is a favourite of many. There are some who love this smell so much they have to have a few salted fish added to every curry. Some hate it so much they contemplate moving when such a dried fish aficionado becomes a neighbour.  

With the 57-day ban on fishing in force from June 15 to August 10, it is boom time for those who are involved in the trading of dry fish. With fresh fish vanishing from the markets or becoming very costly, business of dry fish has been good with the demand being high.

The State government had clamped a 57-day ban on deep sea fishing with the prohibitory order remaining effective till August 10. In view of the breeding season of the species, the restrictions were imposed to ensure a higher fish yield.

To cash in on the prohibition on deep sea fishing, many fishermen engage themselves in drying fish round the clock during summer.  

Packed in raw jute, these dry fish lie in heaps in the market place awaiting buyers. Speaking to City Herald, a dry fish trader said that the trade was doing exceptionally well in the monsoon, particularly when the fishing holiday was enforced. In the absence of large trawlers, small-time fishermen with manually operated boats provided the main supply to the market. In the peak summer season, it takes three to four days to dry the fish and release it for the market. Varieties of dry fish like ‘Thaate’ ‘kollatharu,’ ‘prawn,’ ‘thorake,’ ‘Nang,’ mackerel, sardine have flooded the market. As the demand increases, the price for these dry fish also goes up in the market, says Mohan, who purchases dry fish every year.

“Normally before the onset of the monsoon, I purchase and keep dry fish to be used during monsoon,” said Vijayalakshmi.         

But the dry fish business has its share of problems too. “The margin of profit has gone down. Business is not uniform around the year. But we are forced to run the show as we have no alternate mode of livelihood,” said another trader and added “The rising costs of fish coupled with an increase in labour cost has led to a decrease in returns.”

During the regular season, the dry fish trade provides a supplementary income to fishermen and during the fishing holiday, it was the main source of income. Fishermen engage themselves in drying fish during monsoon at Hoige Bazar, Ullal and sell it to the traders.

The fishermen use traditional drying methods, with little idea about hygiene and contamination. Therefore, it was left to the consumers to properly preserve dry fish for the table.

Girija, a housewife says, “fish is our staple food. When we do not get fresh fish, we use dry fish to prepare curry. We can make chutney or curry using dry fish. We can also eat it just like that by frying it in charcoal or without using any masala.”

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