The Sunday Leader

Fishing Invasion Continues

  • 38 Indian fishermen arrested just two days after bilateral talks

By Camelia Nathaniel

In spite of an agreement reached between the Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen last Monday, 38 Indian fishermen in six trawlers had illegally entered Sri Lankan territorial waters and were taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Navy last Wednesday. The destructive Indian trawlers had reportedly entered Sri Lankan territorial waters just two days after both parties had come to an agreement, despite the Indian fishermen having agreed to refrain from encroaching in our waters for a period of 14 days until further talks could take place to find a solution to the dispute. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Dr Rajitha Senaratne said that he had therefore instructed the Navy to arrest these fishermen who entered Sri Lankan territorial waters illegally last Wednesday.

The media secretary to the ministry Narendra Rajapaksa stated that while they had achieved great success at the discussion, the Sri Lankan representatives vehemently objected to letting the Indian fishermen enter Sri Lankan waters, including India’s request to let their fishermen poach in SL waters for 70 days per year. The Sri Lankan fishermen highlighted the fact that having endured great hardships during the war, and their livelihoods being drastically affected, they are just recovering and rebuilding their fishing industry, and while poaching by the Indian fishermen is having an adverse impact on the industry, their bottom trawling methods are destroying the entire eco system of this country.

Exchanging the bilateral agreement and Indian minister Salman Khurshid in discussion with Minister Rajitha Senaratne

Sri Lanka requested India not to let their fishermen enter SL territorial waters for a month and not to use trawlers in the sea as it damages the marine ecosystem. However, the Indians asked for 14 days to consider the requests. The Sri Lankan delegation then insisted that if the Indian fishermen enter SL waters within those 14 days, they will still be arrested, in spite of an earlier agreement to release fishermen on both sides who were arrested for entering each others territorial waters illegally. From Feb 10 to March 10 Indian fishermen were requested not to poach in SL sea area until final discussions will be held after March 10, he said.

Meanwhile the Minister said that the Sri Lankan delegation had asked the Indians to refrain from entering our waters for a period of one month, and the Indians had asked for 14 days to consider that request. In spite of the warning that if they do enter our waters during that specified period, the minister said that the Indian fishermen had entered our waters and he had thus instructed the Navy to arrest those fishermen. “When the request was made the Indians agreed to our request but within just a few days they have broken their pledge. I have therefore instructed the Navy to arrest them,” added the minister.

The minister further pointed out that the reason that the Sri Lankan fishermen face charges of encroaching on Indian waters is that there is no open space between the Indian and Maldivian territorial waters for the Sri Lankans to enter the innocent passage. “The Indian and Maldivian International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) are tightly connected and there is no open passage in-between. Hence in order to enter the Arabian Sea, Sri Lankans are forced to go through either the Indian or Maldivian IMBL.

“However during the recent visit of the Maldivian president and the delegation, I discussed the possibility of seeking the approval of the Maldivian authorities to allow the Sri Lankan fishermen to enter the Arabian Sea via the Maldivian IMBL. The Maldivian president asked us to send them the details and proposals and they would consider our request and perhaps come to an agreement to adopt a system of issuing a licence for our fishermen who cross their maritime boundary,” said Minister Senaratne.

He further said that while the Sri Lankan delegation had comprehensively explained to the Indian authorities the destruction caused by the Indian fishing trawlers, the Indian authorities had in fact accepted that their method of fishing was not correct. “However while acknowledging the destruction caused by the Indian trawlers; the Indians persisted in their request to allow them some time in order to give up fishing in Sri Lankan waters. However we vehemently rejected their request to allow them to fish in our waters three days a week, as it is causing devastating damage to our marine eco system,” he said.

When asked why these Indian fishermen were granted permission to enter the Sri Lankan waters in the first place, the Minister said that it was not the local authorities who had initially granted the Indian fishermen the permission to do so but a delegation of local fishing organization representatives headed by the Convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Herman Kumara, that had initially agreed. “So that is why the Indians had been coming to fish in our waters three days a week,” said the minister.

The Sunday Leader also spoke with Kumara regarding the allegations and he admitted that he had in fact initially agreed to permit the Indian fishermen to enter our waters, but he said that the current status had nothing to do with that agreement and that if the government had accepted the agreement made by them at the time, this problem would have been resolved by now.

“These discussions spanning ten days were initiated in 2010 along the coast and three discussions were held from Rameshwaram upto Nagapathnam in several places. A delegation of 23 went from Sri Lanka and we had our meetings with the Indian fishermen. I accept what the minister said and yes we decided to allow the Indians to fish in our waters 70 days a year. But we never agreed to allow them to come in their destructive trawlers and fish. In fact we specifically told them that they cannot use any harmful fishing methods to fish in our waters, such as harmful fishing nets, but we said they could use safe methods such as gill nets. We had also demarcated certain areas that the Indians would be allowed to fish in, up to 6 and 8 kilometres in specified areas.

This agreement was also made on condition that after August 2011, they should totally faze out from fishing in Sri Lankan waters. That was the agreement, as they wanted some time to make a few adjustments, where they also indicated that they would convert their boats for tuna fishing, etc. Under those conditions we agreed and firmly stated that the Indians should completely refrain from entering our waters after 2011. But due to the refusal of the Sri Lankan government to accept this agreement we had with the Indians, today this issue has escalated to this level and so much destruction has taken place as a result,” he explained.

He also said that the agreement reached by them at the time was in collaboration with the Sri Lankan government and civil society and even the Assistant Director, Ministry of Fisheries, Lal de Silva had been part of that delegation.

“The agreement at the time was that the Sri Lankan fisheries minister come to India and receives this agreement. However the minister did not come and instead he sent his Director General, Pathirana to receive that agreement. Hence they handed over the agreement to Pathirana and the Sri Lankan government should have respected that agreement. However the Sri Lankan government later totally rejected that agreement and refused to allow the Indians to enter our waters. So now the minister is putting the entire blame on us saying that we agreed to bring the Indian fishermen here. In fact, earlier, the Indian fishermen used to enter our waters 140 days per year, but we reduced it to 70 days. But at that particular instance we insisted that they faze out totally from fishing in our waters in a year. The fact is that if the Sri Lankan government had respected and accepted our agreement the current issue would never have reached these proportions and it would have been resolved three years ago. Now the minister is conveniently accusing us and making it look like the entire issue is our fault,” he said.

According to the media secretary Rajapaksa however India has pledged their fullest support to boost the Sri Lankan fishing industry.
He said that the Indian Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawer had said that he would speak to the chief Minister, Andra Predesh and take steps to free fishermen who are in Andra Predesh. He had also promised to try his best to prevent Tamil Nadu fishermen entering Sri Lankan sea limits.

The Indian minister had made these pledges when he met Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development, Dr Rajitha Senaratne at the Agricultural Ministry in New Delhi. Secretary Rajapaksa further stated that bilateral talks between the Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development and Sharad Pawar, Minister of Agriculture and food process, Indian Central Government were very successful.

“As a result of the talks 129 Sri Lankan fishermen and 34 fishing craft were released, while 236 Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody too were released on January 17 along with their 90 fishing craft. At this discussion Minister Senarathna pointed out that Tamil Nadu fishermen invade Sri Lankan Northern seas and engage in fishing, using illegal bottom trawling system. “As a result our fishermen have no way of reaping the harvest in our seas. At the same time due to this fishing system, the entire sea bed will be destroyed and the fish resource will diminish,” he said.

The Sri Lankan fishing industry had sustained rapid development during the past three years while the fish harvest (both sea and fresh water), which was recorded at 319,120 metric tons in 2008 had increased to 339,730 metric tons by 2009. By the end of 2010 however it had further increased to 384,670 metric tons, and by 2011 to 444,830 metric tons, and 486,170 metric tons in 2012.
In 2013 Sri Lanka recorded the highest fish production by recording a bumper harvest of 515,000 metric tons which was a whopping increase of 65% compared to 2008.

In 2008 the total value of the fish harvest was recorded at Rs. 68 billion, by 2012 it had increased to Rs. 135 billion. The ministry of Fisheries intends developing the entire fish production to 686,000 metric tons by 2015.

During the past seven years 2,524 multi day trawlers, 3,743 single day trawlers and 4,743 traditional non mechanized trawlers have been added to the fishing industry. In addition the number of fishermen actively engaged in the industry has increased by 40%. There were 715,160 fisher folk (including women) engaged in the fishing industry in 2010 and that number had increased to 835,300 by 2013, an increase of 120,140.

Meanwhile the Ministry also pointed out that the fish consumption per person had increased to 41 grams by December 31, 2013, in comparison to 28 grams in 2008.

1 Comment for “Fishing Invasion Continues”

  1. It is time to get tough with Indians. Even after AGREEING NOT to use trawlers to mine FISH stocks Tamil Nadu continue to VIOLATE. Only way is to imprison them for ever TILL THEY STOP entering Sri Lanka waters.

    India is trying to be a BULLY like USA. Have to stop this at any cost……J

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