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Kerala fish species

Fish species are found in particular oceanic ecoregions. Thus, logically, fish species caught should differ by landing centers in different geographical regions and fishing zones, and by type of craft. It follows that the catch size will differ from region to region -- as, obviously, large mechanized trawler nets can lift much larger catch than three fishermen with a hand drawn net. Consequently, markets will differ, as well as prices. Diversity is the order of the day. This implies that circumstances are diverse at different markets. They are not homogenous.

Pandey and Shukla (2005) lists the fish and other ocean species of India. James (no date, but as he talks of 1982-1985 as recent, it probably dates from the 1980s) lists the dominant fish catches.

The habitat of continental fish is between the shoreline and the continental shelf, to a depth of about 200m. Nearshore fish live in habitats up to about 10m. Deep ocean fish, or offshore fish, live beyond continental shelves. The Annual Report 2006-2007 reports that along the southwest coast, 77 species of deep ocean species are caught. Kattumarans and vallams fish near the shore, and thus do not have access to these 77 species, which means that these species are caught by trawlers, that do not typically port in the south. This further means that the products on offer at the different markets differ, and most likely fetch different prices. Jensen was interested only in sardines.

Of the total of 240 pelagic fish species, the dominant landings in India are the following: oil sardine (26%), other sardine (8%) and anchovies (6%) (Mohanty et al no date).

Pelagic fish are found in deep waters, not near the shore nor near the bottom. It is obvious that such fish can only be caught by trawlers. By comparing the bathymetrics of the Kerala coast, and the depths at which the fish in the table below are commonly found, it is obvious that species live at different depths and distances from the shore. Muscle-powered craft cannot veer as far into the ocean as motorized craft, so obviously pelagic fish are not available to 80% of fishing craft used in Kerala.

Oceanodromous fish are born near spawning grounds, then drift into the ocean where they live, but not near the sea floor. These type of fish would have been caught before the ban for fishing in the spawning season by any craft, but since the ban, only by trawlers, or motorized craft.

Neritic fish live on the continental shelf, which ranges from shallow marine environments to 200m depths. In shallow environments muscle-powered craft may catch them, but at depths of 200m mechanized nets are required.

Benthopelagic fish are denser than water, so they can rest on the sea floor. They are thus demersal and live and feed on or near the bottom of the sea, or if freshwater, lakes. Gillnets can be used to catch these fish.

According to James (no date) and Fishbase (no date), Sardinella longiceps live at the depth range of 20-200m, Sardinella dayi / Sardinella jussieu at 0-50m, and Amblygaster sirm at 10-75m. It follows from this that it is impossible for vallams or kattumarans to catch the species that live in deeper ecoregions.

The variety of fish specific to certain ecoregions, and the different types of craft restricted by law to fish only in certain zones, means that different species of fish are brought to market in different regions. From this it follows that different products are sold at different markets, and thus that market behavior, regarding supply and demand, will most likely not be the same at all markets. Fish species not in favour by consumers, will not fetch good prices; and they might merely be wasted. Kerala fish market systems, mechanisms, customs and behaviour arecomplex social systems.

This table contains a small snapshot of the 240 pelagic fish species.

Common name Formal name Brief description
Oil sardine Sardinella longiceps On the IUSN red list; Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 20 - 200 m. Forms schools in coastal waters and strongly migratory. Feeds mainly on phytoplankton (especially diatoms) and small crustaceans. Breeds once a year off western coasts of India when temperatures and salinity are low during the southwest monsoon months. Spawning peaks in August-September.
Mauritian sardinella
Sardinella dayi /
Sardinella jussieu

Marine; pelagic-neritic; depth range 0 - 50 m. Forms schools in coastal waters.
Spotted sardinella
Amblygaster sirm
Marine; reef-associated; depth range 10 - 75 m. A schooling species occurring in coastal waters and lagoons.
Goldstripe sardinella
Sardinella gibbosa
Marine; reef-associated; depth range 10 - 70 m. Forms schools in coastal waters. Feeds on phytoplankton and zooplankton (crustacean and molluscan larvae).
Buccaneer anchovy
Encrasicholina punctifer / buccaneeri
Marine; reef-associated; oceanodromous. A schooling species found inshore and in oceanic waters, hundreds of miles from land. Sometimes entering large atoll lagoons or deep, clear bays. Ranks among the most important food (bait) for tuna and other large pelagic fishes.
Bagan anchovy
Stolephorus baganensis Marine; brackish; pelagic-neritic; amphidromous ; depth range 0 - 50 m. A schooling species occurring in coastal waters, but perhaps able to tolerate lowered salinities.
Devis' anchovy
Encrasicholina devisi
Marine; brackish; reef-associated; depth range 10 - 13 m. Schooling species. Occurs in estuarine and inshore waters. Probably feeds mainly on planktonic crustaceans. Breeds throughout the year.
Spotty-face anchovy
Stolephorus waitei / bataviensis
Marine; freshwater; brackish; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 0 - 50 m. A schooling species found in coastal waters. One of the commonest species of genus Stolephorus.
Indian mackarel Rasterlliger kanagurta Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 20 - 90 m. Adults occur in coastal bays, harbors and deep lagoons, usually in some turbid plankton-rich waters. Form schools. Feed on phytoplankton (diatoms) and small zooplankton (cladocerans, ostracods, larval polychaetes, etc.). Adult individuals feed on macroplankton such as larval shrimps and fish.
Kawakawa / tuna Euthynnus affinis Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 0 - 200 m. Occurs in open waters but always remains close to the shoreline. The young may enter bays and harbors. Forms multi-species schools by size with other scombrid species comprising from 100 to over 5,000 individuals. A highly opportunistic predator feeding indiscriminately on small fishes, especially on clupeoids and atherinids; also on squids, crustaceans and zooplankton.
Longtail tuna Thunnus tonggol Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 10 - ? m. Predominantly neritic species avoiding very turbid waters and areas with reduced salinity such as estuaries. May form schools of varying size. Feeds on a variety of fishes, cephalopods, and crustaceans, particularly stomatopod larvae and prawns.
Striped / Oriental bonito Sarda orientalis Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 1 - 167 m. A coastal species found schooling with small tunas. Also found around some islands. Feeds on clupeoids, other fishes, squids and decapod crustaceans. Spawning varies with the monsoon season . Also caught with troll lines, encircling nets.
Skipjack tuna Katsuwonus pelamis Marine; pelagic-oceanic; oceanodromous; depth range 0 - 260 m. Found in offshore waters; larvae restricted to waters with surface temperatures of 15°C to 30°C. Exhibit a strong tendency to school in surface waters with birds, drifting objects, sharks, whales and may show a characteristic behavior like jumping, feeding, foaming, etc. Feed on fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods and mollusks; cannibalism is common. Spawn throughout the year in the tropics, eggs released in several portions. Also taken by trolling on light tackle using plugs, spoons, feathers, or strip bait.
Torpedo scad / horse mackerel Megalaspis cordyla Marine; brackish; reef-associated; depth range 20 - 100 m . Adults are primarily oceanic, pelagic schooling species rarely seen on reefs. They feed mainly on fishes.
Shortfin scad
Decapterus macrosoma
Marine; reef-associated; depth range 20 - 214 m; usually 30 - 70 m. A predominately pelagic schooling species. Occasionally seen in small groups along reef slopes adjacent to deep water in pursuit of zooplankton. Adults feed mainly on small invertebrates.
Yellowtail scad
Atule mate/ Caranx
Marine; brackish; reef-associated; depth range 1 - 80 m. Adults inhabit mangroves and coastal bays. They form schools, or singly. Pelagic. Mainly diurnal. They feed on cephalopods, crustaceans and planktonic invertebrates such as copepods. Fast swimming in midwater in pursuit of zooplankton.
Largehead hairtail / ribbon fish Trichiurus lepturus Marine; brackish; benthopelagic; amphidromous; depth range 0 - 589 m, usually 100 - 350 m. Generally over muddy bottoms of shallow coastal waters. Often enter estuaries. Juveniles feed mostly on euphausiids, small pelagic planktonic crustaceans and small fishes; adults feed mainly on fishes and occasionally on squids and crustaceans. Adults and juveniles have opposing complementary vertical diurnal feeding migration. Large adults usually feed near the surface during the daytime and migrate to the bottom at night. Juveniles and small adults form schools 100 m above the bottom during the daytime and form loose feeding aggregations at night near the surface.
Narrow-barred Spanish mackerel / seer fish Scomberomorus commersoni Marine; pelagic-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 10 - 70 m. Distributed from near edge of continental shelf to shallow coastal waters, often of low salinity and high turbidity; Also found in drop-offs, and shallow or gently sloping reef and lagoon waters. Usually hunts solitary and often swim in shallow water along coastal slopes. Known to undertake lengthy long-shore migrations, but permanent resident populations also seem to exist. Found in small schools. Feed primarily on small fishes like anchovies, clupeids, carangids, also squids and penaeoid shrimps. Eggs and larvae are pelagic.
Indo-Pacific king mackerel
Scomberomorus guttatus Marine; brackish; oceanodromous-neritic; oceanodromous; depth range 15 - 200 m, usually 20 - 90 m. A pelagic migratory fish inhabiting coastal waters at depths between 15-200 m; sometimes entering turbid estuarine waters; usually found in small schools; Feeds mainly on small schooling fishes (especially sardines and anchovies), squids and crustaceans. Caught with midwater trawls, purse seines, bamboo stake traps, and by trolling.
Sources: James (no date) and Fishbase. Note that the designations of these two sources differ in several instances.


A Global Information System on Fishes
available at and last accessed Feburary 2014.
James, P.S.B.R. (no date)
Marine fishery resources of Kerala. Present status and scope for development.
Retrieved from in February 2014
Mohanty, P.K., Khora, S.S., Panda, U.S., Mohapatra, G.N., Mishra, P. (no date)
An overview of sardines and anchovies fishery along Indian coasts
Department of Marine Sciences, Berhampur University, Orissa

© Jacques Steyn 2014