Traditional Methods of Fishing in Goa
“Nuste kithe gho?” if you’re a woman or “nuste kithe re?” if you’re a man is what you will hear Goans calling out to each other instead of the usual greetings. Rather than say hello, Goans ask each other what’s on the menu today in terms of fish. So central is fishing to Goan culture and cuisine, most Goans simply cannot depart from their lunch staple of rice, fish curry and fried fish. With the exception of a few days a week where some Hindus go vegetarian, every community irrespective of caste and religion eats fish. The Saraswat Hindus of Goa even categorize fish into vegetarian and non-vegetarian types!
Situated on the coast, fishing has been a central occupation for Goans. Fishing communities are identified by their surnames – Kharvi, Nustekar, Arrikar, Kantaikar, Magkar, Pagelkar and Ramponkar. Though huge trawlers and mechanization have largely replaced traditional methods of fishing, many still rely on local fishing communities for their daily catch. Their methods are sustainable and respectful of nature’s cycles since they have not been motivated by profit. Fishing is banned in Goa during the monsoon to allow stocks to replenish. Goan cuisine is also marked by strict suggestions on the appropriate fish to be eaten during a specific season.
Fishing in Goa is done in a myriad of ways. Many Goans will have grown up learning to catch fish with their bare hands during the monsoon when fish gather in shallow waters. It’s a fairly simple task – have your friend muddy the water so the fish stay still, then use your hands with skill. The risk of being stung or scratched doesn’t prevent young boys from learning how to feel their way in the water for a tasty catch. Called porxevopp, more practiced fishermen use this method during the monsoon in the river system of Goa. Retaining walls are built between paddy fields and the river to prevent saline water from flowing in. Fishermen use the walls as a trap by muddying the waters near them to catch fish with their hands or by dropping a net onto a muddied riverbed.
Gorovop (rod-fishing) and poler (line-fishing) are both methods of angling. In the former, a nylon string with a hook is tied to a wooden or bamboo stick. Baits and hooks used depend on the kind of fish one wants to catch. Smaller fish and rice dough are common as bait. In the latter method, one wants to catch a larger variety of fish, so a nylon string sans rod with more enticing bait like a big prawn or a crab is flung into the water. Of course, bamboo rods have now been replaced with advanced fishing rods available today; nylon string has been replaced with all kinds of specialty fishing lines. Even with upgraded technology, these simpler methods of fishing can be seen as fun pastime all over Goa.
The local method of stake fishing is known as khutani or khutavanni. In this method, wooden poles are staked into the river with a net tied across them to trap fish. The fish are then harvested at low tide. It is commonly used in the monsoon season to catch tambuso (red snapper), chonak (sea bass) and dodiyare (croaker).
Kanni or zaali (barrier net fishing) is another method that requires just two or more people to carry out depending on the catch. A rectangular net with two bamboo sticks on either side is held up by two fishermen as they move through shallow waters. More men can be used to trawl a bigger net over the waterbed of a deeper body like a pond. Like khutani , kanni is used to catch monsoon-appropriate fish like tambuso, dodiyare, and muddoshi along with tambdem bhalem (red eel). The same method is called zaali when the net used is semi-circular in shape attached to a bamboo frame. Fishermen use zaali to catch shrimp in muddy sections of shallow waters.
Cast net fishing or kaathalli requires the spread of 200-300-metre-long net. Small floats run across the length of one side of the net enabling the net to fall over the water like a screen.With kaathalli, fishermen snare khorsani (butter fish), shevtali (mullet), conge (apple snails), and tigur (walking catfish) – fishes that have received the Goan stamp of approval for consumption during the monsoon. A smaller net cast by a single person is called paguer.
Ramponn refers to a method where fishermen use a canoe to drag a net in circular fashion over a large area of water. Ramponn is best suited to catching large fishes like snapper, grouper, barramundi, shark, barracuda and lobster in the monsoon.
Catching crabs to make that delicious crab curry requires equipment called jhaari. In jhaari, a net laid against a circular metal frame called kobulem is placed on the river in clusters. Kept at a distance of 50 metres between jhaari, the metal frames allow for the traps to be placed at a uniform level in the water. A string is tied to the sets of jhaari. When fishermen detect movement in the string, they take action to remove the nets. Clams are caught by free divers using their hands, and oysters are dug for on seashores and riverbanks.
Manas or Poin are Konkani terms for fishing using sluice gates. Used to control the ebb and flow of tides in Goa’s river, the gates are also used to trap fish at low tide when they close in.
Dipkavnni is a method of using light sources to confuse fish. Back in the day, paraffin or kerosene lamps were used to shock fish and then catch them with a handheld net. Today, people use high-beam torches in shallow water to do the same.
Community wisdom dictates that the best fishes to eat in winter are kingfish, pomfret, doumer, tuna, mackerel, crab, prawns, tiger prawns, shark, lobster, squid and mussels. During the summer, Goans eat shark, kingfish, squid, crab, bombil (bombay duck) and prawns. If you’re hanging around this coastal state for a longer period of time, fishing in Goa is a great way to get to know locals and to possibly find joy in older, simpler ways of fetching one’s dinner.