20 Sep 2020 | 04:34am IST
Turning crisis into an opportunity Goa’s young and new fish sellers lead the way
There’s an oft-used phrase that goes like this, ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. In these unprecedented times, many in Goa are turning to traditional forms of occupations and are figuring out ways not just to make their ends meet for a day or two, but how to sustain themselves for a long period of time. At a time when cash is hard to come by, youth from Goa have taken to selling fish and to their surprise, are discovering that all is not lost, as they once feared when they had lost their ‘white collar’ jobs or were unable to get a one. TEAM HERALD looks at some of these inspiring stories that serve as a template of what has been happening across the coastal State as youngsters earn their livelihood and help bring food on the plate for their families back home. Some even see a long-term career plan in this line as they feel there are enough opportunities to scale up and convert this into a lucrative business model
It is a known fact that life in the post-COVID era will not be the same anymore. The effects of the current pandemic, which has shaken the entire world, are expected to have a lasting impact on every sphere of activity, with everyone trying hard to protect their own livelihoods. The world-wide job market has been tumultuous amid the crisis with huge job losses across various sectors and soaring unemployment. Goa has not been an exception to this.
As the pandemic-induced lockdowns battered economies and affected livelihoods across different sectors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ call seems to have taken seriously by our youth. The struggle for survival has made the young generation realize a lot and come to terms with what they can do and what’s in store for them in the near-immediate future. Always known for inclination and pursuit of “white-collor” jobs, the Goan youth, is today seen selling veggies, fruits, fish, to earn theirs and their families’ livelihood in the current crisis.
These types of jobs were earlier taken over by migrants. Presently, the fish business is something that is catching up pretty fast amongst the youth across the State. Today you will find on every nook and corner, locals selling fish in large numbers. With migrants returning back to their States, Goans have taken over the trade, which has no full stop. Fish is part of Goans staple diet and Goans love to eat their favourite ‘nustem’ all 365 days of the year. Incidentally, under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, the State Government has prepared Rs 163.1crore State Action Plan that includes 24 beneficiary oriented schemes for providing boost to fish farming in Goa.
Back from britain and into the fish business
The story about Edward, a 25-year old youth who has returned from London and lives in Old Goa, and his friend, is similar to the story of many in the State.
It was in the first week of February, this year, that Edward had gone to the UK to start his new job at the airport Lounge. However, it was just a month that he had started to work and the airport was shut down in view of the worldwide COVID pandemic. Helpless, he returned back to his motherland in June, with no income in hand.
His close aid Gautam, 30, son of a fisherman, also lost his job. He was working as a store manager in a private firm at Kundaim Industrial estate. Being the eldest brother of three young sisters, Gautam had to look for an alternative to ensure his survival and that of his family’s. Edward and Gautam are among the several youngsters across Goa, who lost their jobs due to the COVID pandemic. But today, they don’t have any qualms about taking up fishing to help their families during the crisis.
“My baba (father) is a fisherman. We have our own canoe. When I was working, he used to catch fish and Ma (mother) used to sell it. I decided to take up the business of selling. Edward has a Maruti Omni. We used the vehicle as our fish selling cart,” Gautam explains. “Initially it was difficult. But then, we got in touch with a fisherman in Malvan from whom we get fresh catch every day and sell it here. I must say, the daily revenue is what my monthly salary was. We both together earn around Rs 7,000-Rs 8,500 daily by selling fish,” he added.
Edward explained that after initially trying to sell fish in the Old Goa area itself, we went to Kundaim, Ponda and Panjim and areas around on a weekly basis. I tell you, we have seen many youths getting into this business. You see across the State, you will find youngsters with vehicles selling fish. There is no shame,” he said with a big smile on his face.
If one takes a round across Panjim, Taleigao, Old Goa, Porvorim, one can see many unemployed youths in Goa, whether male or female, have ventured into this newer role of direct selling of fish, which till now was popular with some senior citizens and non-Goans. These youths include graduates and some foreign nationals with Portuguese passports. “It is nice to see that our own boys and girls are into the fishing business. They give you a very homely feeling. Good barging also. This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi means ‘Atmanirbhar’,” Rohidas Shet, a customer, said. Fish, vegetable and fruit sale is the fastest growing business in the current pandemic and has been caught up well by the local youths. This is a story of many, who are hit hard due to the current pandemic.
The father of an infant, Santosh Rivonkar, a bus driver by profession, is left without any work today.
"My daily expense is around Rs 1,000. From where am I going to get this? I took a loan of Rs 10,000 from my friend and sold my bullet. And I have started this fish sale business," he explained.
Rivonkar further stated that he has started the business since the last two months and he sells the fish at wholesale price. "We move out of the house around 5 am in the morning and later go home in the afternoon. The sale is good and I feel, government should support such business," he added.
‘Better to do this instead of remaining unemployed’
Lockdown and the absence of fresh fish in the State have pushed several people to fish starvation. However, some youth have taken it upon themselves to make sure fish reach the plates of the people. In Salcete, the trucks coming from other States may have been discontinued. But the small-time fishermen continued to venture into the rivers and sea waters, which gave them returns of moderate catches. This fish was being sold by the fishermen themselves or also by some youngsters who saw it as a business opportunity.
Afroz Shaikh, a fruit and vegetable shop owner from Margao now sells fish on a road leading towards Ramnagari, and ahead towards Chandor. The road sees a lot of traffic. Herald had a chat with Afroz and he said, "I earlier sold vegetables at the market. However, after the lockdown, there were no people walking into the market. We have spent days sitting at home as we did not have a business," he explained.
Afroz stated that he is now selling fish as this is good business.
"I make a decent income to support my family," he said. On the day Herald spoke to Afroz, he had mackerels and small fish, which he finished selling by that evening itself.
Another youngster in his 30s, Simon Mascarenhas is selling fish as well as homegrown fruits at Borda. Not that he has no competition but his work for 12 years in a car dealership as a Sales Executive, a white-collar job and the traits of selling that the job gave him is setting him apart in the entire crowd.
While speaking to Simon about his journey and the similar kind of work others are doing, one could get the feeling that that there is a lot of desire amongst the youth to be self-employed and they have resources too. However, they need push and in the case of Simon the question "what after the lockdown?' has pushed him ahead. Simon told Herald that he had quit his job to do business but life had some other plans. After the lockdown instead of service, he chose to help his mother and sell their products and also procure more variety of horticulture and fish products from his friends from Ponda.
Another youth Saiesh Prabhu who was running a successful Event Management company faced downtime during the lockdown and he too, took to selling fish in bulk. He told Herald that he has also started selling mangoes grown in his home town, Cuncolim.
With no tourists coming in, taxi drivers opt for selling fish
Many people who were into rent a cab business and other professions have now turned towards selling fruits, veggie and fish.
Youth, women, and other men who were hit badly on the financial front during the COVID-19 pandemic have now taken up to the fish selling business in a major way to cope up with the household expenses and support their families.
The shift in the profession especially the consumer market based jobs are being taken up on a considerable scale by many people for the survival purpose.
One of such case from many cases was of a Yellow black cab operator, Riyaaz Sheikh (46), from Vasco who has opted for a fish selling job opposite the KTC bus stand.
During an interaction with Riyaaz, he revealed that he was a driver at Dabolim Airport and was earning fairly well.
“The last time I went for a taxi fare was in March 2020. Because of the COVID pandemic everything was shut all over the country. There were fewer flights, number of passengers dropped, so the taxi cab business also took a hit. For six months I was unemployed due to no taxi business," he added.
Speaking about his journey into this new business, he said that just last month, he decided to take up a new job and do whatever hard work that was necessary, in order to support his family, given that he is the only breadwinner.
“I took up the job of selling fish. There is nothing wrong in selling fish or taking up any job. We need to be hardworking and sincere. I purchase fish from Vasco jetty area, in case of unavailability of fish, I have to rush to Margao to purchase the fish stock,” he added.
He also pointed out that on a daily basis, purchase of Rs 10,000 to 12,000 fish stock is done.
“Sometimes we get little bit of benefit and sometimes we also have to face losses.
Sardine and Mackerel were put out for sale today. 250 per kg Mackerel were purchased by me and I sell 270 per kg here. I bought Sardine 230 per kg and sold 270 per kg,” he explained, while talking about the slim margins.
When asked whether he earned more profit in taxi business or in fish business, Sheikh said in taxi business he earned more with less effort.
“In the fish business I have to wake up early, and then I have to do icing of the fish stock, rickshaw rent, and purchase of fish stock in the early morning and then sell it. Through the yellow black taxi used as a movable outlet, there is a lot more effort required in the fish businesses,” he added.
After losing jobs in hospitality industry, youth earn their income selling fish
Many youth from different parts of Bardez and Pernem taluka have started doing business of selling fish after COVID 19 hit the employment issue in the state. Also, most of these youth were working in the hotel industry but since the hospitality sector has also been largely affected, many of them lost their jobs during this pandemic.
Not only fishing but many have started indulging themselves in other business such as selling of fruits, snacks and cloths, more at roadside in stalls. Some have even rented vehicles for the same or have bought second-hand vehicles, from where they conduct their business.
But most of them have gone into the fishing business and start their day early in the morning, by going to the fishing jetties to buy fish and then they sell it in their localities. Some even sell it on their two-wheelers, while others are even using second-hand rickshaws.
While the norm is for them to do this business alone, there are some instances where friends have formed partnerships and combined their resources.
Against this backdrop, these ventures to ensure self-employment have not only been appreciated by their families but also the community in general.
Another reason why this has been welcomed as many in the society were concerned that migrants had taken over this business and now can buy fish from one of their own. This has even given relief to the customers who had fears of fish being laced with formalin, given that now the ‘fresh catch’ comes directly from the jetties.
One can find these local vendors by the roadsides, with their vehicle or without their vehicles, the latter using stalls or keeping buckets besides them that store their catch.
“It's high time for people especially the youth to realise that no private job or government job is waiting for us and it's we who have to take steps to get employed. It's been a month that I have started this business and my family is happy seeing me doing something concrete with my life in such times”, said a youth named Rakesh Naik.
“I was working in hotel as bartender. However after COVID hit the tourism industry, there were many job losses in the hotel, including mine. For almost 5 months, I was completely unemployed and there was no source of income. One day my friend came to me and suggested this business plan, which I agreed to and now we are selling fish. We have put up stall at Canca circle”, said Pravin Wadawdekar, another local youth.
Sai Chodankar another youth from Pernem said,” I was into photography but due to COVID there is no business. Since I had knowledge of the fishing business, I took up this business. I have my scooter. Every morning, I go very early all the way to Margao get the fish and then sell it at Chopdem later.”
Waiters, drivers, mechanics, painters and masons are now fish vendors
Until before the first lockdown in March, the fish business was the monopoly of certain community and that too only women were involved in the part of selling fish.
However much has changed as today, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Goan youth to turn to the fish selling business. While they may have been reluctant then, they are enjoying the fruits of their labour now.
For instance, Diago a middle-aged family man, who used to work as a waiter at a restaurant, is one such person who has started selling fish.
Earlier, he would go house-to-house on his bike but now he has a permanent place at the Cuncolim fish market. “No work is less important and there is always dignity in labour. At the end what matters is that we need to feed our family. I was jobless and I saw no other alternative to survive so I jumped into this business. It’s my hard earned income at the end of the day and I am proud of the fact that I can support my family in such times. The Goan youth must come forward to accept any job or business and if anyone laughs at them, ignore them as we are doing legitimate work and not indulging in thefts or other such crimes,” he added.
Another case is that of Swapnil Naik from Comba Paricotto who was into the car accessory business. He had his own shop but suddenly due to the lockdown, his car accessories business collapsed. He had no other alternative so he turned his car into a fish cart and is now doing good business.
“If the situation does not change, I don’t mind continuing with the same business. There is no shame in selling fish as after all it is your own business. We have to break this stigma that comes with such work and I am happy to accept this challenge,” he added. There are many more such stories. Shrimati Naik, did not hesitate to sit in front of her house to sell fish. Along with her husband, Abhijeet, they both accepted the challenge to become fish vendors.
“Many may not have liked this change. Many relatives asked us why you are doing this business; can't you feed your family with some other job? I asked them what's wrong in it. I may not be from the fisherman’s community but we all eat fish so what’s wrong in selling it. Relatives and friends may give advice but they will not send food for your family so we have to sustain ourselves and that's we are doing. I have no regrets in accepting this new business Shrimati said.
In addition to the aforementioned people, there are others like private bus drivers, conductors, and skilled workers like painters and carpenters who have now taken up selling of fish to earn their livelihood and are quite content at the moment.
‘Need support from govt and Fisheries dept in terms of space, schemes’
Since the lockdown, there have been a large number of youth who have switched to the business of selling fish on the streets of Ponda. Some of them are taxi operators, flower vendors and other who had jobs in various sectors but were sacked during the COVID pandemic.
Not willing to remain unemployed, these youth started selling fish to earn their livelihood. Later on their discovered that there are various schemes available that can support them. They have now urged the Ponda Municicpal Council and the Fisheries department to consider their applications for these government schemes.
They added that in order to get the benefit of these schemes, they have to get a NOC from the local governing body, which is the municipality in their case, and then they can register with the Fisheries Department to avail the schemes framed for such vendors.
Sameer Naik and other vendorss who started selling fish during the lockdown pointed out that first the municipality had allowed them space in the fish market but the regular fish vendors opposed them. Following which, PMC now gave them space in the streets and they are conducting their business on the outskirts of the market. Sources however pointed out that the number of new fish vendors in the taluka is slowly surpassing the number of the older fish vendors. He reiterated their demand for support from the government.
Councillor Venkatesh Naik added that all the new fish vendors have been asked to complete the formalities wherein they can be identified. “PMC could charge a token fee Rs 500 and provide them the NOC,” he added.
Many residents in the taluka agreed that it is better that that the government encourages self-employment as the government cannot provide everyone with jobs.