The Sunday Leader

Fishing In Banned Waters

By Waruni Karunarathne

With the European Union (EU) deciding to impose a sanction on Sri Lankan fisheries products, there is lot of agitation created especially among the fisher folks. Some fisher groups who will be affected by this decision recently protested in front of the Ministry of Fisheries who received them with hostility.

Convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement and the human rights activist Herman Kumara told The Sunday Leader if the sanction is imposed in three months the fisheries industry will suffer a great deal. “Other than EU countries, we export fisheries products to Japan and US but EU is the largest buyer,” he said. According to media reports, he said that Sri Lanka exports 2000 metric tons of seaweed to UK annually and there will be a loss of about 23 million pounds only with reference to seaweed export to UK. “But Tuna and other fisheries products that we export to UK and EU countries are much more than that,” Herman Kumara added. According to him there are 4300 multiday trawlers in Sri Lanka and all of them depend on the exports of fisheries products and if the sanction is imposed many fishermen will lose their jobs and the fisheries industry is in danger.

He explained that in November 2012, the EU gave a warning to SL government demanding to comply with the EU fishing standards. According to him, the EU gave warning to six countries including Sri Lanka but in March 2013 the EU expressed that they were happy with Sri Lanka for following the guidelines  however all of sudden they have decided to impose the sanction while they lifted the alert on other countries, which he thought was quite strange.

Herman Kumara accused the government of not being transparent when giving license to foreign vessels to fish in the high sea which have created space for the EU to bring sanction on Sri Lanka. “The EU says that Sri Lankan fishing fleets are going all over the Indian Ocean and catch fish in the international waters in a manner that violates the policy on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and Sri Lanka does not follow the EU vessel monitoring system VMS,” he explained

He pointed out that there is an Indian Ocean Tuna commission which is a kind of regional fisheries organisation which has given each country their allocation to fish in the Indian Ocean – and Sri Lanka has its’ allocation. “There are about 4300 multiday trawlers of the Sri Lankan fisher fleets operate in the high sea fishing and each boat catch from about 2000kg to a maximum 3000kg of fish during one trip which is about 3 metric tons and all of them may only amount to approximately 12.9 metric tons of fish for a trip. It does not even exceed the amount one Spanish massive trawler catch in one trip,” he said. Thus denying government’s accusations, he explained that there is hardly any possibility that local fishermen had violated the IUU fishing policy.

However Herman Kumara added that they did not know as how many vessels with Sri Lankan flag were operating in international waters. He said that the government had not been very transparent about how many Chinese, Indonesian, Taiwan or any foreign vessels were given permits to fish in the deep sea within our allocations. He insisted that it was the responsibility of the government to reveal how many foreign vessels were given license, what was their allocation and under what conditions they operated as it could be the cause for the EU to claim that Sri Lanka violated the IUU.

He further added that according to local fishermen Chinese vessels were using purse seine nets where they could catch large quantities of fish that might exceed the allocation. Herman Kumara thus denied allegation directed by the Fisheries Ministry against the local fishermen for poaching illegally which according to the government was the main cause of the EU sanction.

However Fisheries Ministry Spokesman Narendra Rajapaksa insisted that the main reason for the EU to decide imposing a sanction is due to local fishermen poaching illegally in the foreign seas. “Fishing in the international seas is not the issue. Anybody can fish in the international sea. The main issue is that local fishermen enter into foreign seas like India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar etc and they are being caught regularly for poaching in foreign waters,” he added.

According to him, about two years back when the EU had talks with the government, they had requested the government to take actions locally regarding the matter. “At that time, we did not have a regulation on that. Therefore last year the fisheries and aquatic resources act was amended by parliament,” he stated. According to the amendment, he said that the vessels caught violating the international maritime laws are subjected to a fine of Rs. 1.5 million, confiscation of the vessel and the license of the multi day vessel is also suspended. “The EU is now asking to increase the fine and impose separate fines for boats depending on their sizes. We are in the process of categorising the vessels and making necessary arrangement to fine as requested,” Rajapaksa added.

Denying allegations level against the foreign vessels operating with the Sri Lankan flag, Rajapaksa said that the Chinese vessels are not foreign vessels but are under BOI and belong to a Sri Lanka-China company. “They do not fish in our waters they fish in the international waters. They are big vessels and they do not engage in any illegal fishing,” he assured.

According to him, another demand of the EU is that Sri Lanka should implement the Vessels Monitoring System (VMS) within the period of three months. He added that all the measures have been taken to initiate the system to implement VMS before the end of December.  He added that the EU has requested to maintain a log book to monitor information on which port these vessels leave, where they plan to go, what they do, what equipment they have in possession when they leave and how many kilos of fish they have when they return etc. “We have already put a log book to monitor those required information. We have addressed most of their requests,” he claimed. According to him, the Fisheries Ministry has taken all the measures required and would be able to address all their concerns within the three months period.

“During last few years there has been a huge improvement in the fisheries industry and there have also been improvements in exports on fisheries product. There is a feeling among many that this sanction is brought to pressure Sri Lanka on other matters,” he added.

He further added that the Fisheries Minister requested the police to investigate into the unrest that erupted recently during the fishermen’s protest in front of the ministry.

In defence, the EU pointed out that the move came after four years of intense dialogue with the country after which it could not demonstrate that it sufficiently addressed illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The EU said in contrast, that Belize, Fiji, Panama, Togo and Vanuatu, which had received warnings at the same time as Sri Lanka, have successfully taken measures to tackle illegal fishing.

According to the EU, the main weaknesses include shortcomings in the implementation of control measures, a lack of deterrent sanctions for the high seas fleet, as well as lacking compliance with international and regional fisheries rules.

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