The Sunday Leader

Local Fishermen Want Bottom Trawling To End First

by Ashanthi Warunasuriya

  • On average, Sri Lanka is losing over Rs. 500 million due to poaching by Indian fishermen
  • The Sri Lankan government has confiscated 122 Indian fishing vessels and equipment

Local fishermen are demanding that bottom trawling by Indian fishermen should be stopped in order to resolve the fishing dispute.

Chairman of the All Island General Fisheries Federation, Nihal Galappaththi told The Sundy Leader that the Indo-Lanka fishermen issue has now become a national issue.

“This issue has been dragging for years. Although we had urged several governments that were in power to resolve the issue, so far none of them have been able to put an end to it,” he said.

On average, Sri Lanka is losing over Rs. 500 million due to poaching by Indian fishermen and this has caused a drastic decline in maritime resources in the Northern seas.

According to reports over 6,000 Indian fishing trawlers poach in Sri Lankan waters every month.

According to environmentalists, the fishing techniques by Indians have even destroyed plant life in the sea.

“The authorities have still failed to have the courage to stand up to India and save the country’s resources and the livelihood of its people,” Nihal Galappaththi said.

The Navy has been given the task of guarding our seas. They are assisted by the Coast Guard. Now it is also handled by the Coast Conservation and Environment Ministries.

Speaking about the government’s stance on the issue, Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the issue is currently being discussed at diplomatic level. Pointing out that the government has given priority to this long drawn issue, Minister Amaraweera further said that several projects have already commenced to develop the welfare of fishermen.

According to the Fisheries Ministry, so far the Sri Lankan government has confiscated 122 fishing vessels and equipment belonging to Indian fishermen who had poached into the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

However, fisheries associations claimed that so far these negotiations with India had produced little output. They also criticized all the governments that had been in power for yielding to India’s demands. The members of the opposition have also joined the fight claiming that they would urge the authorities, both inside and outside parliament, to reach a lasting solution for this issue in order to protect local fishermen and maritime resources.

Meanwhile, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed his views on the issue. The one time fisheries minister and the key figure in the previous administration said, “We are not a province of India. So we must discuss this matter directly with the Indian central government. There is no use of talking with state governments. However, we must listen to both sides in this issue. We did not have a threat of this nature during our administration. At that time the Navy had the strength to keep things under control”.  The second round of bilateral discussions between India and Sri Lanka on fisheries issues was held last week in Colombo. The discussions were headed by Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Indian Fisheries Minister Radha Mohan Singh. The negotiations, aimed specifically on formulating a lasting solution for the conflict, were first initiated last November in India.

The talks in Colombo followed the first meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held in New Delhi on December 31, 2016. The JWG, constituted in pursuance of the decision taken at the Ministerial meeting held in New Delhi on November 5, 2016, was co-chaired by Secretary (Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries), India and Secretary (Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development), Sri Lanka.

The Ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues. The co-chairs of the JWG briefed the Ministers on the outcome of the first JWG meeting for consideration of the Ministers and further directions to take the process forward. Both sides agreed to a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to expedite the release and handing over of fishermen in each other’s custody on completion of respective legal and procedural formalities. The immediate release of the fishermen presently in custody was announced following the ministerial level talks. As part of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) agreed to by both sides, it was decided to intensify cooperation on patrolling and to institute periodic interaction between the Coast Guard of the two countries.

An understanding was reached to ensure that there was no physical harm or loss of life while apprehending fishermen by Navy and Coast Guard of the two countries. It was agreed to explore the possibility of introducing effective tracking systems for the fishing vessels and making the use of onboard communication equipment mandatory. The Ministers appreciated the efforts taken by the JWG in operationalizing the ‘Hotline’ between Indian and Sri Lankan Coast Guard, which would ensure quick decision making and response. Both sides discussed the issue of releasing fishing vessels in each other’s custody.

The Indian side requested for the immediate release of Indian fishing vessels. The Sri Lankan side agreed to consider the request in view of the progress being made by the JWG. The Sri Lankan side reiterated that the practice of bottom trawling needs to end at the earliest. The Indian side assured that bottom trawling would be phased out in a graded time-bound manner within a practicable timeframe keeping in mind the capacity building of the fishermen who have to be diversified into deep sea fishing as well as other coastal fisheries activities including Mari-culture, pearl farming, seaweed culture, etc.

The Sri Lankan side was briefed about the measures already instituted including the decision to construct a new fishing harbour at Mookaiyur in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, and the capacity building program for Indian fishermen on deep sea fishing that commences tomorrow at Chennai and Kochi.

The next JWG meeting will be held in Colombo in April 2017 to review the progress made in addressing the fishermen issues in a comprehensive manner.

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