Centred on “let’s build up an international instrument to sustain small scale fishers and the industry”, the meeting had only one major no-show, Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senarathna, and his aides, a situation that raised the ire and frustration of those present. Ansel Fernando, a fisherman from Wathuregama (Balapitiya), slammed the minister for not coming. “Ministers and politicians have no solution to our problems; that is why they do not want to meet us.”
Most participants were all thumbs up after they heard Ansel’s speech; however, Sarath Fernando, a veteran social activist, tried to defuse the controversy. “We don’t have to worry too much by the absence of the minister and other politicians,” he said. “We should learn to do without them.”
He went further. “We might think that elected ministers and the regime are there for the people,” he explained. “That is not the case. For that reason, we must come up with our own proposals and do whatever possible for our future.”
Still, fishermen are not completely alone. The Committed on Fisheries (COFI), a subsidiary body of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Council, plans to help small-scale fisheries develop international instruments of sustainability in three regional conferences in order to help prepare the COFI summit in 2011.
For the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), national consultations should precede regional meetings, starting first with district-level meetings making their way up to nation-wide discussions. As NAFSO President Herman Kumara pointed out, the future of small-scale fisheries “is in our hands”.
As part of this process, “Fishermen cooperatives must be reorganised” to help inland fishing communities, said A J Anderson, a fisherman from the North Central Province.
Indian fishing fleets was another issue raised at the convention. Sri Lankan small-scale fishermen accuse them of employing fishing techniques like bottom trawling that destroy the environment, causing huge losses to them.
In the northern part of the country, main theatre of its 30-year civil war, fishermen are also left with a very difficult legacy, worse than anywhere else in the island nation.
At the end of the meeting, a group of 15 people volunteered to present the Fisheries minister with the convention’s proposals. Contacted, ministry officials said the minister was not available in the near future, but perhaps a meeting could be worked out further down the road.