Many of the actual stilt fishermen have taken up farming or reselling fish purchased at larger markets from Weligama to Unawatuna, a 30-kilometer stretch of southern shore in Sri Lanka. Most of these spots have tourists visiting to see stilt fishing, which doesn’t exist anymore. But fishermen like the 30-year-old Adnesh wait for tourists and pose as stilt fishermen to get photographed, for their livelihood.
They wait on the shore in the humid hot weather. When they are told that a tourist bus is arriving at the shore, they climb on their large stilts to give the tourists the real feel of stilt fishing. They work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sometimes they do catch small fish, while getting photographed.
“There are around 135 professional fishermen in our area. They are fishing for last 30 years as I know them personally. Still some of the fishermen use stilt fishing as they love to do it,” said Akram, a 60-year-old fisherman.
For stilt fishing, a vertical pole with an attached crossbar is embedded into the sea floor among the shallows or on a riverbed. The crossbar allows the fishermen to be seated a couple of meters above the water, causing minimal shadows on the water and therefore little to no disturbance of the sea life.
“Our boss is very honest in terms of sharing the money, which is collected from tourists. He shares the money among all the fishermen, including those people who bring tourists to the shore,“ said Adnesh, while having a jackfruit on Weligama’s shore at dawn.
Once a week, these fishermen catch fish on boats and later sell them in markets. For the rest of the year, they pose in pictures for tourists.
“This is what we will be doing to earn a living,”added Adnesh, waving at me to leave.
Vikar Syed is a multimedia journalist based in Kashmir. His work has appeared on Tribune.com, Dawn.com, The Quint, Hindustan Times and several other publications. Find Vikar on Twitter at @vikarsy.