They say the place stinks, looks unclean, is filled with rubbish,” says an agitated N. Geetha, pointing to the row of fish boxes and vendors lined up on both sides of the road. “This rubbish is our wealth; this stench is our livelihood. Where can we leave this and go?” asks the 42-year-old woman.

We are standing at the makeshift Nochikuppam fish market on the Loop Road, stretching 2.5 kilometres along the Marina beach. The ‘they’ who want to see vendors gone from here in the name of aestheticisation of the city are the elite lawmakers and civic authorities. For fisherfolk like Geetha, Nochikuppam is their ooru (village). A place that they have always belonged to, despite the tsunamis and cyclones.

Geetha is preparing her stall early in the morning before the market gets busy, spraying water on the makeshift table created from a few overturned crates with a plastic board placed on top. She will be at the stall till 2 p.m. Ever since her marriage more than two decades ago she has been selling fish here.

But a little more than a year ago, on April 11, 2023, she and close to 300 other vendors operating from Loop Road received an eviction notice from the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC). Following an order from the Madras High Court GCC was asked to clear the road within a week.

“The Greater Chennai Corporation shall remove every encroachment [fish vendors, stalls, parked vehicles] on the Loop Road by following due process of law. Police shall render assistance to the Corporation to ensure that the entire road portion and pavement is free of encroachment and available for free flow of traffic and free movement of pedestrians,” the court order had stated.

PHOTO • Abhishek Gerald
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: Geetha with tilapia, mackerel and threadfins for sale at Nochikuppam market. Right: Fishermen sorting the catch of the day

PHOTO • Abhishek Gerald
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: A section of the new market from inside the premises, with the car parking area at the centre. Right: Some of the 200 odd boats parked on the Nochikkuppam stretch

For the fishing community, however, they are the poorvakudi , the original inhabitants. And it is the city that has been steadily encroaching upon land that historically belonged to them.

Long before the city of Chennai (or even Madras) was built, this coastline was dotted with  little kattumarams (catamarans) out at sea. Fishers would sit patiently in the half-light, feeling the wind, smelling the breeze, watching the currents for the signs of vanda-thanni – the silt laden current from the Cauvery and Kollidam rivers that surge seasonally along the Chennai coastline. This current used to bring bountiful catches of fish once. Today the catches are not bountiful, but Chennai’s fishers still sell at the beach.

“Even today, fishers wait for vanda-thanni , but the sand and concrete of the city have erased the memory that Chennai was once a collection of fishing kuppams [hamlet of people who perform the same occupation],” sighs S. Palayam, a fisher from Urur Olcott Kuppam, a village across the river from the Nochikuppam market. “Do people remember that?”

The beachside market is a lifeline for fishers. And relocating a fish market, as the GCC plans, may seem like a mild inconvenience to other city-dwellers, but for the fishers who sell at the Nochikkuppam market it is also a question of livelihood and identity.


The battle over the Marina beach is an old one.

Each successive government, going back to the British, that has come and gone has stories to tell about their share in the beautification of Marina beach.  A long promenade, the bordering lawn, neatly maintained trees, clean walkways, Smart Kiosks, ramps and more.

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: Policemen on patrol duty at the Nochikuppam Loop Road. Right: Fresh marine shrimp for sale at the market

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Sriganesh Raman

Left: Makeshift tents and sheds used by the fishermen for storing nets and recreation at Nochikkuppam. Right: Fishermen removing the catch of the day from their gillnets at Marina Beach

This time the court has initiated action against the fishing community by way of a suo moto petition in view of the traffic chaos caused on the Loop Road. The Madras High Court judges themselves use the road for their daily commute. Eviction orders were given to remove the fish stalls from the side of the road as they were said to be contributing to chaos during peak hours.

When the GCC and police officials started demolishing the fish stalls along the west side of the Loop Road on April 12, the fishing community of the area erupted into more than one round of mass protests. The protests were suspended after the GCC promised the Court that it would regulate the fishermen on Loop Road until the completion of a modern fish market. There is a conspicuous presence of police in the area now.

“Whether judge or Chennai Corporation, they are all part of the government, no? So why is the government doing this? On one hand they make us symbols of the coast and on the other, they want to prevent us from making a livelihood,” says S. Saroja, a 52-year-old fish vendor on the beach.

She is referring to the mural make-over of their government-allotted Nochikuppam housing complex (between 2009-2015) on the other side of the road that separates them from the beach. In March 2023 Tamil Nadu Urban Housing Development Board, an NGO called St+Art and Asian Paints took the initiative to give a ‘face-lift’ to the community’s dwelling. They invited artists from Nepal, Odisha, Kerala, Russia and Mexico to paint murals on the walls of 24 tenements in Nochikuppam.

“They paint our lives on the walls and then remove us from the area,” says Geetha, looking up at the buildings. The ‘free housing’ in these buildings proved to be anything but free. “An agent asked me to pay five lakh rupees for an apartment,” says P. Kannadasan, 47, an experienced fisherman from Nochikuppam. “If we didn’t pay, the apartment would have been allotted to someone else,” adds his 47-year-old friend Arasu.

The metamorphosis of Chennai into an increasingly urban space, and the construction of the Loop Road itself, cutting through the dwellings of the fishers and the beach, have repeatedly witnessed the fishers at loggerheads with the city corporation.

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Kannadasan (left) at Nochikuppam. Arasu (right) and his son Nitish (brown t-shirt) posing for the camera with Nithish's grandmother under the shade of an umbrella

PHOTO • Sriganesh Raman
PHOTO • Sriganesh Raman

Left: Ranjith selling fish at the market. Right: Murals on the Government alloted housing complex for fisher folks

The fishers think of themselves as belonging to a kuppam , a hamlet. “What will a kuppam be if the men have to work in the sea and on the beach, but the women have to work far away from home?” asks 60-year-old Palayam. “We will lose all sense of connection between each other and with the sea.” For many families the only time to have a conversation is during the transfer of fish from the men’s boats to the women’s stalls. That is because men fish at night and sleep during the day when women are out selling the catch.

The walkers and joggers, on the other hand, recognise the space as customarily belonging to the fishers. “A lot of people come here in the mornings,” says Chittibabu, 52, one of the regular walkers at the Marina. “They come especially to buy fish... This is their [fisher’s]  ancestral trade and [they] have been here for a long time. It doesn’t make sense to ask them to move,” he says.

Ranjith Kumar, 29, a fisher at Nochikuppam agrees. “Different types of people can use the same space. For instance, walkers come from 6 to 8 in the morning. At that time, we are at the sea. By the time we come back, and the women set up the stalls, all the walkers are gone. There is no issue between us and walkers. It is only the authorities who create a problem,” he says.


Different varieties of fish are on offer. Some of the smaller, shallow-water species like the crescent grunter (terapon jarbua) , and the pugnose ponyfish (deveximentum insidiator) can be bought here at Nochikuppam market for Rs. 200-300 a kilogram. These are caught locally, within 20-kilometre radius of the village, and laid out on one side of the market. The larger, high-value species sold on another side of the market, like seer fish (scomberomorus commerson), usually cost Rs. 900 - 1000 a kilogram and large trevallys (pseudocaranx dentex) can be bought at Rs. 500-700 for a kilo. Fisherfolks here use local names for these varieties – keechan, kaarapodi, vanjaram, paarai that they sell.

The heat from the sun sets up a race against time to sell the catch before it goes bad, and customers with keen eyes can quickly differentiate the fresh catch from the ones that have begun to spoil.

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Sriganesh Raman

Left: A fish vendor sorting her catch of sardines. Right: Fisherwomen cleaning fish on the road at the market

PHOTO • Abhishek Gerald
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: Mackerel being dried at Nochikuppam. Right: An assortment of fishes including flounders, goatfish and silver biddies for sale

“If I don’t sell enough fish, who will pay for my children’s  fees?” Geetha asks. She has two children. One goes to school, and one is in college. “I cannot depend on my husband to go fishing every day. I have to wake up at 2 in the morning and go to Kasimedu [10 kilometres north of Nochikuppam], buy fish, come here in time to set up the stall. If not, forget the fees, we won’t even be able to eat,” she says.

Almost half of the 10.48 lakh fisherfolk population from 608 villages engaged in marine fishing in Tamil Nadu are women. And it is primarily women from the hamlet that run the makeshift stalls. It is hard to establish the exact income figures, but the fishers and vendors who sell at Nochikuppam make a relatively good living, compared to a far-off, government-approved harbour Kasimedu or at other indoor markets, the women say.

"Weekends are the busiest time for me,” says Geetha. With each sale I make roughly 300 to 500 rupees. And I sell almost continuously from the time I open (8:30 a.m.- 9 a.m.) until 1 in the afternoon. But it's difficult to tell you how much I make, because I have to also spend on going and buying the fish in the morning, and what I spend varies depending on which species and the price of fish I get on each day."

The fear of a drop in income with the move to the proposed indoor market looms large for all of them. “With our earnings here, we are able to run our household and take care of our children,” says a fisherwoman on the beach on condition of anonymity. “My son goes to college too! How will I put him and my other children through college if we move to a market where no one will come to buy fish? Will the government take care of that also?” She is upset and fearful of repercussions of complaining about the government.

R. Uma, 45, who was among the women forced to move to another indoor fish market near the Besant Nagar bus stand says, “A spotted scat fish [scatophagus argus] which sells at 300 rupees at Nochikuppam cannot be sold for more than 150 rupees in Besant Nagar market. If we raise the price at this market, no one will buy it. Look around, the market is dingy, and the catch is stale. Who will come and buy here? We would love to sell fresh catch at the beach, but the authorities don’t allow us to. They have moved us to this indoor market. So we have to slash prices, sell stale fish and make do with meagre earnings. We understand why the women in Nochikuppam are fighting to sell on the beach; we should have done the same.”

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: Chittibabu regularly comes to the market when he is out for a walk in the Marina lighthouse area. Right: Krishnaraj, a veteran fisherman, shares his woes about relocation of the Nochikuppam market

Chittibabu, who is also a fish-buyer at the beach says, “I know that I pay a premium to buy fresh catch at the Nochikuppam market, but it’s worth it if I can be assured of the quality”. Looking around at Nochikuppam’s fair share of dirt and stench he adds, “Is the Koyambedu market (a fruit, flower and vegetable market) clean always? All markets are dirty only, at least the open-air ones are better.”

“A beach market may smell,” chips in Saroja, “but the sun keeps drying out everything and then it can be swept away. The sun cleans the dirt.”

“Garbage vans come and collect the household waste from the buildings, but not the market waste,” 75-year-old fisherman Krishnaraj R. from Nochikuppam says. “They [the government] need to also keep this [Loop Road Market] place clean”.

“The government offers many civic services to its citizens, so why can’t the areas around this [Loop] road also be swept? Are they [the government] declaring it to be ours to clean but not ours to use for anything else?” asks Palayam.

Kannadasan says, “the government is favourable to only the affluent, constructing walkers’ pathways, rope cars and other projects. They may pay the government to get these done and the government pays middlemen to do the work."

PHOTO • Manini Bansal
PHOTO • Manini Bansal

Left: A fisherman removing sardines from his gillnet at Nochikuppam beach. Right: Kannadasan removing his catch of anchovies from the gillnet

“A fisherman can sustain life only when he is close to the shore. If you throw him inland, how will he survive? But if fishers protest, the protestors are jailed. If middle class people protest, sometimes the government listens. Who’ll take care of our families if we go to jail?”, asks Kannadasan. “But these are all issues of fishers who are not seen as citizens,” he says.

“If this place stinks for them, let them leave,” says Geetha. “We don’t want any help nor favours. We just don’t want to be disturbed and persecuted. We don’t want money, fish storage boxes, loans, nothing. Just let us live in our place and that’s enough,” she adds.

“Most fish sold at Nochikuppam are from here only but sometimes we source them from Kasimedu also,” says Geetha. “It doesn’t matter where the fish come from,” remarks Arasu, “we all sell fish here. We are always together. It may look like we shout and fight with each other, but they are just small grievances here, and we always come together to protest when there’s a problem. We put aside our work to join a protest not only for issues faced by ourselves, but also issues faced by other fishing villages."

The communities across three fishing kuppams along the loop road are uncertain even about getting a stall in the new market. "There are going to be 352 stalls in the new market being created," says the head of the Nochikuppam fishing society, Ranjith, giving us an update on the situation. "The stalls would be more than enough if they were to be given only to the sellers of Nochikuppam. However, not all sellers will be allotted a place in the market. The market is supposed to accommodate all the sellers from three fishing kuppams along the loop road – the entire stretch from Nochikuppam to Pattinapakkam, which has close to 500 sellers. What will happen to the rest of the people after the 352 stalls are allotted? There is no clarity on who will be allotted a space and where the rest are to go," he says.

“I’ll go sell my fish in Fort St. George [the location of the legislative assembly]. The whole hamlet would go, and we’d protest there," says Arasu.

Names of the women in the story have been changed on request.

Divya Karnad

Divya Karnad is an international award-winning marine geographer and conservationist. She is the co-founder of InSeason Fish. She also loves to write and report.

Other stories by Divya Karnad
Photographs : Manini Bansal

Manini Bansal is a Bengaluru-based visual communication designer and photographer working in the field of conservation. She also does documentary photography.

Other stories by Manini Bansal
Photographs : Abhishek Gerald

Abhishek Gerald is a marine biologist based in Chennai. He works on conservation and sustainable seafood with the Foundation for Ecological Research Advocacy and Learning and InSeason Fish.

Other stories by Abhishek Gerald
Photographs : Sriganesh Raman

Sriganesh Raman is a marketing professional, who loves photography. He is a tennis player, who also writes blogs on a wide variety of topics. His association with Inseason Fish means learning a lot about the environment.

Other stories by Sriganesh Raman
Editor : Pratishtha Pandya

Pratishtha Pandya is a Senior Editor at PARI where she leads PARI's creative writing section. She is also a member of the PARIBhasha team and translates and edits stories in Gujarati. Pratishtha is a published poet working in Gujarati and English.

Other stories by Pratishtha Pandya