02/28/2023, 11.53
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Jaffna fishermen protest permits for Indian fishing boats

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The proposal was put forward by the Fisheries Minister as a solution to illegal activities. Trawling by fishermen in Tamil Nadu has a strong environmental impact on fish stocks. Sri Lankan fishermen feel that the government is buckling under Indian pressure.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - More than 40 fishermen's associations in the Jaffna district, numbering about 8,000 members, have decided to drag their fishing boats onto the road in protest against the proposal by Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda to allow Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters. 

According to the proposal, put forward as a solution to poaching and illegal practices by Indian fishermen, permits will be issued for boats based in Tamil Nadu and with limited engine capacity to fish in the Palk Strait, which divides the two countries. 

Selvanathan Thurairajah, Kumaran Anandappa and Samuel Karthigesu, representatives of fishermen's associations in the North, told AsiaNews that "there will be a discussion about the minister's move to allow 'small Indian boats' to fish in Sri Lankan waters under a licensing system that will adversely affect' their livelihood. The fishermen added that they will not allow Indians to obtain permits to fish in northern waters 'even for one hour." 

K. Balachandran, president of the Karainagar Pradhesiya Sabha, a local council, wrote last week to the Indian Consul General, Raakesh Natraj, demanding compensation for the damage caused by the Indian fishermen to local fishermen to the tune of 11 million rupees (less than 29,000 euro).

Senior Fisheries Ministry officials said that "there is already a dispute with the owners of trawlers worth millions of rupees from Tamil Nadu when it comes to fishing in the Palk Strait. This has an impact on Sri Lanka's economy and makes a mockery of the international maritime boundary line that separates India and Sri Lanka."

However, these sources also added that "Minister Devananda has considered some proposals regarding the identification of the location of fishing grounds, number of vessels, regulatory authority and a possible joint patrolling mechanism by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, which will be discussed at the next meeting of the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group.

"Under no circumstances will Indian trawlers be allowed to enter Sri Lankan waters, as this practice is banned in Sri Lanka due to the enormous damage it causes to marine resources," he said. The minister believes that Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen can reach a 'win-win' situation. His top priority is to protect the interests of the northern fishermen,' the sources said.

On many occasions, Sri Lankan authorities have detained Indian fishermen, who were released after a series of diplomatic meetings between representatives of the two countries. 

"These trawlers use large nets that sweep the ocean floor, also trapping many young fish, affecting the reproductive cycle and causing depletion of marine resources," explained environmentalist Ratnajeevan Kumaravelu.

According to experts, "the licensed boats would be relatively small and equipped with engines of minimal power, unlike the trawlers in Tamil Nadu that are armed with large capacity engines and iron trawling equipment."

According to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs, "discussions are continuing with the Indian government to resolve the fisheries issue. We must ensure that trawling is completely banned with the aim of protecting marine life." 

Meanwhile, fishermen's associations in the North believe that "the government is giving in to pressure from the Indian government." Because of this problem, "Sri Lankan fishermen will suffer." Minister Devananda said that the proposal to grant the permits was 'a measure to reduce tension between fishermen on both sides and to prevent trawling in the northern seas'. 

Senior government sources added that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to address the issue during his visit to India.

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