How fish markets opened on Facebook and WhatsApp during the lockdown in Kerala’s capital


Dawn continues to be many hours away when Jobin Ouseph leaves, at three am from his dwelling at Valiyathura, a picturesque coastal village in Thiruvananthapuram district, for the hustle and bustle of the fish auctioneering market at Vizhinjam. There, nation boats have landed with the early morning catch. After frenetic bidding, he takes dwelling seer (neymeen) and sailfish (thala). By 7.30 am, the tech-savvy entrepreneur updates his prospects about the day’s catch on Pachameen, a WhatsApp group with 250 prospects. By 10.30 am, he and his cousin are able to ship the fish, cleaned and reduce.

It has been hardly two months since Jobin, son of a fisherman, began Pachameen. The 23-year-old is amongst a number of others from the coastal areas in the district who began dwelling supply of fish when the markets had been closed during the lockdown attributable to the pandemic.

Testing the waters

An important staple for a lot of residents in Kerala’s capital metropolis, fish was onerous to return by in the preliminary days of the lockdown. But quickly social media was flooded with distributors, who wanted only a Facebook web page and a WhatsApp quantity to start out dwelling supply of recent fish. “It has been my dream to start my own business venture. Having worked with a food delivery service for a year, I knew how to go about it. The lockdown was an opportunity to test the waters and it clicked,” says Jobin, a pupil of MBA.

Siblings Mohammed Rafi and Mohammed Althaf from Vizhinjam too determined to swim with the tide during the lockdown. “With nothing much to do during that period, we decided to sell fish online. Initially, our customers were friends and relatives. But when we realised the business potential of what we had begun, we started posting details on a Facebook page. Although we are only a few weeks old in the business and haven’t finalised even a name for it, we have got enough customers to keep it afloat. There has been a surge in the demand for fresh fish after stale fish was confiscated in large quantities. And we cashed in on that opportunity,” provides Althaf.

In the case of Manoj Henal Silva, founding father of Fish Story, it was the disparity in costs that “forced” him to start out the enterprise. “My family has been in the fisheries sector for several decades and we have been supplying fish to governmentas well as private enterprises, who also do home delivery. We decided to enter the fray when we realised that, suddenly, there were so many players in the field and they were charging according to their whims and fancies,” says Manoj.

Besides Vizhinjam, the distributors focus on touchdown centres at Poonthura, Valiyathura and Perumathura. It’s not a straightforward job although. “Since we don’t know when the boats will bring in the fish, we’ve arranged for people at different landing centres to inform us when the catch arrives. It could be around midnight or in the wee hours of the morning,” says Vivek Vijayan, who runs Innathe Pacha Meen along with his brothers Vaishak Vijayan and Vishak Vijayan.

He provides that Innathe Pacha Meen has tripled its buyer base after the lockdown. “We had four WhatsApp groups before the lockdown. Now we have 12. I started this on a trial basis with my brothers a year ago when we were on a break from our jobs in the UAE. Since our father is a fish auctioneer, we had a smooth run and we decided to stay back. The lockdown has pushed sales beyond our expectations,” says 24-year-old Vivek.

It’s associates and household who pitch in to gather, clear pack and ship the fish. Cleaning cost is normally ₹20 and the supply fees come in the rage of ₹20 to 40, relying on the distance to be coated. Some of them provide the fish in neat plastic containers that need to be cleaned and returned.

Meanwhile there are folks like Appu R Nair who launched dwelling supply service of fish to faucet into the big demand for recent seafood. “We have been planning to roll out a service for sometime now. With people forced to stay indoors during the lockdown, it was not difficult for us to make inroads into the business,” says Appu, director of Fish Tales primarily based in Vizhinjam.

Unpredictability issue

Regarding the challenges, Vivek factors to the unpredictability of the catch. Jobin provides, “There have been days when I didn’t bid for any fish because of exorbitant rates. With so many vendors coming in, there is competition at the landing centres. It is better to start on a small scale,” Jobin says.

Moreover, their charges are sometimes in contrast with these of fish in the market. “Most of these markets sell stock that comes from Tamil Nadu whereas we supply fresh catch of the day,” Vivek factors out. Also, there have been situations when conventional fish-sellers have raised objections in opposition to on-line distributors. “These sellers, comprising mainly women, compete among themselves and and naturally they get upset when we end up winning a bid,” Jobin says.

Some of the newly minted entrepreneurs have plans to develop their community by protecting extra locations in the district. “We are getting enquiries from Attingal and suburbs in the district. So we are working on the logistics,” Vivek provides.

Now that they’ve proved that they’re no fish out of water in terms of revolutionary enterprise practices, all eyes are on them to learn how they develop their enterprises.

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