The lake, abutting the Chennai-Tiruchi railway track, is a lake, a natural one and has abundance of fish species include rohu (Labeo rohita), vral, mirigla (Cirrhinus mrigala), etc. and the species introduced by the government include silver fish, catla (Catla catla), 9 jelabi, etc.
The villages surrounding the lake are: Amanapakkam, Chengalpattu (town), Paranur, Malayampakkam, Hanumanthai, Terukkupattu, Pattaravakkam, Ilanthopu and Thenur.
It is the second largest lake in the Kanchipuram district after the Madhuranthagam Lake. There are no records of this water body going dry in summers. When the lakes in Chennai go dry, it is this lake that helps the city tide over the shortage of drinking water.
'The Kolavai Lake belongs to the community called Vetakaras, who were the only persons engaging in fishing at the lake', said Ramanujam, a vetakaran; these are an indigenous group of people having a social right over the lake.
Till today, no motorboats or motorised fishing gears are used, but a diversity of fishing gears are used (that are often typical of small- scale fishing).
The Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation [TTDC] opened a leisure-boating at the lake some years ago, and the motorboats used for this purpose seem to have polluted it as leakage of oil from the boats have affected the aquatic fauna.
Presently, catamarans are used for fishing and going into the deep parts of the lake. In 1968-69, fishing passes were introduced (fishing permits) by the Inspector of Fishing at Poondi (outskirt of Chennai).
Fishing permits allowed them carry out bio-remediation process for enabling fishing and also for safe drinking purposes.
Currently two methods of fishing are followed here. One is the use of catamarans (bought from the seashore towns of Kasimedu or Kalpakkam) for fishing. The other method followed for ages is the practice of wading into the water of the lake and doing fishing with the aid of 'visiri valai'.
The most commonly used nets are 'veesu valai' (cast nets) and floating nets (with buoys made of thermacol), the length of the net has increased and the distance between two knots in the net has expanded and the material used is now nylon.
There are many buyers who come from nearby towns (Chengalpattu, Tambaram, Vandavasi) to buy the catch, The greatest shift in the fishing activity is that of fishing moving from self-sufficiency to commercial operations.
Selling them directly at the markets are rare as the fishermen had to pay nominal charges to the market committee. Most of the fisherfolk spoken to by this reporter, said, 'The catch has to be taken to long distances for marketing them. This is often not a remunerative deed for the fisherfolk, if a small-scale fish processing plants can be started around the villages it would provide employment and also an attractive option for us.'
The knowledge of the previous generations of fisherfolk are neither documented nor used by the fishing officials in the region to understand the diversity and variety of these systems. In spite of propagation of threat to the natural resources, especially the over-exploitation of fishing grounds, it is not just resource erosion that is taking the toll on the Kolavai Lake.
Owing to indiscriminate migration and relocation, local knowledge is possessed only by a very few senior people and that expertise is not sought largely.