Batticaloa (AsiaNews) – Small-scale fishermen in the Batticaloa lagoon area will go soon hungry. Drought and illegal fishing, tolerated by local authorities, are wiping out their already meagre earnings.
For months, the coastal area of the North-Eastern Province has not had a drop of rain, and the water level in the lagoon is so low that bottom rocks are starting to surface making fishing impossible.
But a fickle nature is not the only thing making it hard for the 70 or so fishing families that live in the area. Authorities turning a blind eye to law breaking is another aggravating factor.
“The main problem is the use of illegal gear by some locals,” Mattakkali Co-operative Fisheries Organisation secretary Nagarasa Sivanesharasaa told AsiaNews. Disco nets and other destructive gear are devastating on the environment, both plant and animal life.
The first ban on destructive gear came into effect in 1996, but since 21 July of this year, the rule applies to the whole country.
Yet in the district of Batticaloa, illegality is widespread. And fishermen blame the authorities for looking away. For the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), this “is a clear example of why we need democracy in the country. The law should be upheld again.”
Nalliya Yoganayagam, a local fisherman and father of four, is devastated. “Last year I made about 2,000 rupees a day (US$ 16), but yesterday I only earned about 500 and today 50.
“There are about 500 fishermen who use illegal fishing gear, which the Fisheries Department had banned, but with the support of police and the army they continue to using them, untroubled,” said some fishermen from the area between Kalladi and Navalladi.
Afraid of possible retaliation, they withheld their name or refused to be photographed.
“Bans do not apply to friends of the authorities,” they said. “Nine fishermen were stopped last week for destructive fishing gear. They were even taken to court but no action was taken against them.”
Everything is scooped up as a result of illegal fishing in the high seas; little is left for those who respect the rules and remain within the four-kilometre zone.
“All we need is to have this illegal fishing stopped and the ban enforced,” said NAFSO secretary Herman Kumara. Sadly, what is happening in Batticaloa “is another example of the state of the rule of law in our country.”
In view of what the Supreme Court ruled (see Melani Manel Perera, “Sri Lanka, fishermen win the war: invasive techniques banned,” in AsiaNews, 24 July 2009), offenders should be reported to the police, which should then proceed against them.
“When you see police violate the law, how can we have trust and report them to the same authority,” he said.