Trawling for Trouble: The Underbelly of Seafood

A photo essay on fish trawling off the coast of Maharashtra

Disclaimer: The following pictures may be disturbing to some viewers. 


A majority of India’s seafood is trawled: a mechanized form of fishing that drags a large net along the bottom of the ocean—indiscriminately catching all that it can and destroying the habitat of marine life.


A much smaller vessel on the water, closer to the shore. Some vessels are at sea for a single day while others spend up to a couple of weeks on the water.


The hands on the deck are often migrant workers, working on these vessels throughout the fishing season. During the monsoon, fishing is banned for providing a breeding window and to avoid the rough weather.


All hands on deck – help is needed to hoist the net up and attach it to the crane hook which will raise hundreds of kilos of catch to the deck.


A large proportion of the trawl capture is ‘by-catch’, which means that it is incidentally caught while targeting the lucrative species. Most of them are either thrown overboard in various stages of dying, discarded on arrival at the shore, or sold at a pittance to use as chicken feed.


Terns often trail or circle around trawlers once the net is hoisted. They try to snatch up bycatch thrown overboard.


Sifting through the catch, sorting it for sale at the auction. It will begin soon after the trawler reaches the shore. Several of these will be packed into ice crates and shipped across the country.


A pufferfish discarded as by-catch breathes its last. These fishes are commercially, culturally, and ecologically important in many regions.


A shoal of lizardfish caught in a feeding frenzy. Notice how many fish still have their prey in their mouth, frozen in time. 


A hook-nosed sea snake—one of the most common snakes caught as by-catch—makes its way back into the water after being released from a fisherman’s net. It swims towards the very vessels that it was caught by.


Not all snakes are fortunate enough to make it out alive, several such as this one perish. Since sea snakes’ eggs develop within their body (evolved to their entirely aquatic lifestyle), the death of a pregnant snake individual also means the death of all her unborn young.


Trawling, as a fishing method, is indiscriminate in what it catches. With several non-target species being fished in the process, it has a deep impact on biodiversity and can lead to the death of our seas.


Arjun Kamdar
Arjun Kamdar
Arjun Kamdar is a freelance naturalist and wildlife photographer/researcher who has been involved in conservation and research projects across India and is currently studying wildlife biology and conservation at National Center For Biological Sciences, Bangalore. He is interested in finding innovative solutions at the intersection of ecology, economics, and sociology.