6 AM at Sassoon Docks

You smell Sassoon Docks before you see it. At 6 am, the docks are busy, chaotic even. Men push handcarts through puddles of blood and guts, egrets swoop in to steal fish, women holding tubs of fish ask if you want bombil. Nachiket Parchure takes us deep into the heart of the docks. 

A typical day at Sassoon docks begins at 5 AM when fresh catch is brought in from the sea. 

A typical day at Sassoon docks begins at 5 AM when fresh catch is brought in from the sea. 

Located in Colaba, the docks are the oldest and largest wholesale fish market in Mumbai, built on reclaimed land. In addition to the jetty itself, the docks house a series of warehouses where the Koli fisherwomen shell prawns with staggering dexterity.

Located in Colaba, the docks are the oldest and largest wholesale fish market in Mumbai, built on reclaimed land. In addition to the jetty itself, the docks house a series of warehouses where the Koli fisherwomen shell prawns with staggering dexterity.

The docks were built in 1875 by the merchant, Sir Albert Abdullah David Sassoon, a prominent member of the Bombay Jewish community. It is the same Albert Sassoon who conceived of the David Sassoon Library located in Kala Ghoda.

The docks were built in 1875 by the merchant, Sir Albert Abdullah David Sassoon, a prominent member of the Bombay Jewish community. It is the same Albert Sassoon who conceived of the David Sassoon Library located in Kala Ghoda.

More than 1500 trawlers work at the docks, bringing in around 20 tonnes of fish everyday. Over 150,000 people depend on the docks for their livelihood and they clock a daily turnover Rs  2 crore, of which half is exported.

More than 1500 trawlers work at the docks, bringing in around 20 tonnes of fish everyday. Over 150,000 people depend on the docks for their livelihood and they clock a daily turnover Rs  2 crore, of which half is exported.

Every day a fish auction takes place in the market, but it is open only to wholesale buyers. However, if you know what to look for, the docks are a great place to buy fresh catch at cheaper prices than other markets: Tips to remember while choosing fish are clear, glossy eyes, shiny red gills, and flesh that is firm and blemish-free.

Every day a fish auction takes place in the market, but it is open only to wholesale buyers. However, if you know what to look for, the docks are a great place to buy fresh catch at cheaper prices than other markets: Tips to remember while choosing fish are clear, glossy eyes, shiny red gills, and flesh that is firm and blemish-free.

The sheer variety of fish on offer is mind-blowing –  red snapper, tuna, octopus, baby sharks, cuttlefish, blue crabs and stingray are some of the fish you can expect to find here.

The sheer variety of fish on offer is mind-blowing –  red snapper, tuna, octopus, baby sharks, cuttlefish, blue crabs and stingray are some of the fish you can expect to find here.

The Indian red snapper, known locally as tambusa, is mostly exported. But steamed or used in a curry, it is known to be superior to its American counterpart.

The Indian red snapper, known locally as tambusa, is mostly exported. But steamed or used in a curry, it is known to be superior to its American counterpart.

The docks at Sassoon are 'wet' docks, ie, they allow boats to enter at all times because the water level remains the same regardless of the tide. Initially, the docks serviced the cotton trade as the Sassoon family were cotton merchants. It was after the decline of the Indian cotton industry that fishing became the main activity here.

The docks at Sassoon are 'wet' docks, ie, they allow boats to enter at all times because the water level remains the same regardless of the tide. Initially, the docks serviced the cotton trade as the Sassoon family were cotton merchants. It was after the decline of the Indian cotton industry that fishing became the main activity here.

The price of fish in recent times have gone up due to over fishing, and sales at Sassoon docks have been steadily declining over the last few years. 

The price of fish in recent times have gone up due to over fishing, and sales at Sassoon docks have been steadily declining over the last few years. 

The Mumbai Port Trust's plan to give the docks a Rs. 25 crore-facelift has recently been approved. It details plans to modernise the docks for the fishing community, and to include a museum and an AC market to encourage more visitors and sales.

The Mumbai Port Trust's plan to give the docks a Rs. 25 crore-facelift has recently been approved. It details plans to modernise the docks for the fishing community, and to include a museum and an AC market to encourage more visitors and sales.

The docks give employment to thousands from the Marathi fishing community, the Kolis, who are the oldest inhabitants of the island of Mumbai.

The docks give employment to thousands from the Marathi fishing community, the Kolis, who are the oldest inhabitants of the island of Mumbai.

Nachiket Parchure is a self-taught photographer from Sangli, who likes to explore and document new places through his photographs. You can find more of his work here.

 

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