The Sunday Leader

Indo-Lanka Fishing Issue Drags As Talks Loom

by Ifham Nizam

Fishermen in once war-torn Jaffna Peninsula claim that they were treated as a marginalised group by successive governments, firstly due to the terrorists activities in the area.

Thavashselvam Thanushan, President of the Jaffna District Fishermen’s Society federation, says the United National Party led government came to power with a pledge, stressing the `good governance’ policy would treat every citizen equally.

“Now, we don’t have powers to go to the harbour area but Indian goods are transported or shipped without any restrictions. We understand diplomatic relations of the two countries. Having said that we are citizens of the land …sadly sidelined by authorities, this is one of our major concerns of the people voted to elect the present regime,” he stressed.

He says they represent 128 unions but nobody from the government had consulted them.

Stressing that they were aware of President Maithripala Sirisena calling for an early solution to address the Palk Bay conflict involving fishermen of India and Sri Lanka, Thanushan says while admiring the move he said they should have consulted the fishermen to know more about the hardships they go through due to the poaching by Indian fishermen.

“ The President did mention about us and concerns about the long-term damage caused to the environment and the sea resources, when he met Indian Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar in New York.

Indian fishermen, originating from Tamil Nadu, use thousands of bottom-trawlers to fish in the Palk Bay. They reportedly cross the maritime boundary between the countries, often prompting arrest by the Sri Lankan Navy. “But what’s the point …the problem continues and goes on,” he said.

The Sunday Leader learns  that President Sirisena told Mr. Akbar that both governments viewed the fisheries conflict from a humanitarian perspective, and swiftly released fishermen arrested on charges of trespassing.

When contacted, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told The Sunday Leader that more than 50 percent of the problems of the fishermen had been solved after he took over.

He said that India has been pressurising for some time. “Tamil Nadu has been trying very hard to pressurise us to release these boats. However, since I took over the ministry, I have not allowed to release  a single Indian boat that was  arrested. I will continue to instruct the relevant divisions to arrest all Indian fishermen entering our waters no matter how much they pressurise us. At present, we have over 100 boats in our custody and the arrests are continuing,” he added.

He says Indian encroachment has been an issue that has been festering for a long time now. “This has been happening for the past 30 years and they have been coming into our territory even during the war. Now the Indians think that this is their right to fish in our waters. However, we are not allowing them to come here.  But the problem is that when there are thousands of Indian boats entering our waters, even the Navy finds it hard to stop them all. However we will not just allow this to continue and we are looking at various possibilities and solutions in order to resolve this issue,” he added.

Fielding questions, Amaraweera said that some of the concerns were not brought under his notice. However, he would look into the matter.

Responding to Thavashselvam Thanushan’s concern on the dilapidated state of the Jaffna Fisheries Co-operatives building, he said they are willing to spend the needed Rs. One million or more of the betterment of the fisher folk in the area. The Fisheries sector in Sri Lanka accounts for 1.8 percent of GDP –Gross Domestic Product at the current market prices and 1.3 percent at constant (2002) prices in 2014. Total fish production in 2014 amounted to 535,050 metric tons and it value addition was Rs. 176,239 million or USD 1,350 million.

Growth rate of fisheries sector in 2014 was recorded as 4.5 percent at constant prices and it was 12.7 percent at current market prices against 2013. Around 272,140 active fishermen have engaged in both marine and inland fisheries and 1,023,780 members of their household depend on the income gained through fishing and related activities.

The Fisheries sector has generated Rs. 34,797 million (US$ 266.5 Mn.) of export earnings in the year 2014 and it was accounted for 2.4 percent of total export earnings. A positive trade balance of Rs. 15,937 million (USD 122 Mn.) was indicated for external trading of fish and fishery products.

In order to achieve this growth, about 32,025 of motorised boats and 21,963 of non-motorised boats have been operated in marine fishing. Out of motorised boats around 4,447 boats have been operated in offshore fishing.

Meanwhile, another union leader said that most of families have grievances that need to be addressed.

“Because some of these people have come from the Vanni, we cannot expect them to have any fishing equipment for their daily fishing operations.”

When fishing families in other parts of the country suffered from the tsunami disaster of 2004 , non-government organisations (NGOs) rushed to their assistance, but only two or three NGOs are helping the resettled Jaffna fishermen.

He says these families do not have the basic facilities even to start their fishing. The fishermen’s families also lack proper housing.

Resettling organisations have put up tiny makeshift homes, better described as sheds, made of stone and a dozen or so sheets of tin for a roof, he said.

Fishermen whose homes were in the vicinity of the Mayiliddy fishing pier have not been allowed to return as the area remains a part of the High Security Zone, he said.

There has been talk that no families will be resettled within a kilometer of the eastern end of Maathakal. It is understood that land in this area has been earmarked for sale in a deal with a foreign company.

The Fishing Federation of Jaffna and other fishing groups have discussed the problems facing the fishermen in the North with senior government officials and foreign officials.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes