India’s Goa fisherman

Goa, India fishing boat

Shortly before dawn, long before the tourists in nearby hotels and hostels have staked their claim on Goa’s white sandy beaches; three men launch a simple wooden boat into the gentle surf and silently make their way out into the Arabian Sea.

The tiny craft is paddled out of the surf; its progress surprisingly quick given the basic nature of both the boat and paddles and within a few minutes it is a hundred meters offshore, just beyond the limit of the breaking waves. Two of the men on board enter the water and swim further out to sea, unravelling a coil of thick rope and net as they do.

Initially, they form an arc away from the boat, before turning toward the shore. The rope floats on the surface of the gentle swell, the net forming a wide barrier parallel to the beach. As the two men, ropes in hand begin to swim to shore, dozen more push their way through the thick palms lining the shore and arrive at the water’s edge.

The men in the water hand over the ropes to those onshore and they begin hauling on the thick orange cords; creating a large semicircle from the shore to the boat. The circle gradually grows smaller with every pull. The men work with barely a sound: the teams have been repeating the same gestures for years learnt from previous generations, communication is unnecessary, each movement known by heart.

With every pull of the rope, more people come to the beach. By the time there are just thirty meters of rope left in the surf, the beach is a hive of activity. The whole village seems to have gathered on the sand for this event.

As the ropes get closer to shore the net begins to be tossed by the breaking waves. More men join the rope pulling as it becomes more difficult. The bulging net now drags along the shallow sea and the team become more vocal as they time their pulls with rhythmic commands.
With the last few pulls, a mass of fish begin to emerge from the sea, trapped by the net behind, one or two are lucky and flip over the thick rope, but hundreds more are trapped beneath the writhing mass which is rapidly covered in white foam from the breaking waves. A few more fish are sucked back into the sea by the retreating wave but the fishermen seem unconcerned as their catch is still substantial.

The boat that launched the net has been following behind the net since it was cast and hovers just meters offshore, the pilot seems to be the one in charge, yelling commands and shouting rebukes if a pull is missed or the net is not wrapped tightly enough.

Two men abandon the ropes and each pick up a thick wooden pole; they retreat into the surf and, using the poles as leverage, begin to push the net ashore. The net is only a meter or two from shore and the first few fish flop on the sand. It is a battle of strength between a dozen men and hundreds of fish, but experience wins here every morning. ...

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