Popular fish, Sardine is now 'anti-hero' in Kerala

Popular fish, Sardine is now 'anti-hero' in Kerala

The price of sardine has skyrocketed this month to Rs 300 per kg

DH File Photo

Though Kerala exports high quality of prawns and other sea products, people in the state mainly consume sardine ('mathi' or 'chalai' in Malayalam) because of its low price and wide availability. However, the price of sardine skyrocketed this month to Rs 300 per kg ending up as one of the most expensive fish species in the state.

The normal price of sardine is between Rs 60 and Rs 120 per kilogram based on the availability of the fish in the Arabian Sea. The fish species -- Indian Oil Sardine -- comprise the largest share of total marine fish catches in India, which is 17 per cent to 20 per cent, and mostly available in the southwestern coast of the subcontinent.

Although several reasons are being attributed to the inflation in the price of sardine, climate change is the major reason for its scarcity in the Kerala coast. Marine researchers say that the Indian Oil Sardine moved from the Kerala coast to Tamil Nadu coast due to the El Niño phenomena which increased the heat of the water in the Arabian sea. A study by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) in Kochi and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) found that the sardines avoid warm water and have thus moved from Kerala coast to deeper waters and other regions.

Some cite the biological changes of the sardine and its fertility rate as the reason for it. The climate change has also affected the reproduction of the sardine, experts say.

Recent years have witnessed a gradual hike in the price of marine fish species.

Trawling ban

The annual trawling ban for two months, during the reproduction season of fishes in the Kerala coast, usually leads to hike in fish prices as there is a shortage in the fish catch then. However, at that time traditional fishing boats are allowed to ply and this year, they have seen the absence of sardine in the waters.

The local bicycle fish-sellers are avoiding the purchase of sardine because of the price hike. The scarcity of the sardine is frustrating fish-eating Malayalis since sardine dishes are a ubiquitous item on the dining table. 

The state is now getting sardine from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa. While this has brought down the price, the quality of fish is a concern for customers as preservatives like formalin are being used in the fishes coming from other states.


Social media is being flooded with memes and trolls about the soaring price of sardine. People consuming sardine are now being called wealthy. Some memes are seen asking the sardine to think about its path to being a popular fish in Kerala while other memes portray the price hike as an act of sweet revenge by sardine which has, so far, been considered a 'low class' fish.

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