04/24/2007, 00.00
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Thousands of fishermen demand more rights

by Melani Manel Perera
Various organisations took part in a non violent protest rally in front of Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Ministry in early April demanding protection for fishermen rights and limits on foreign fishing.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Thousands of fishermen and various organisations launched a peaceful protest (Satyagraha) on April 9 and 12 in front of the Ministry of Fisheries in Colombo. They demanded that a memorandum of understanding signed by the ministry with a Maldivian fishing company be rescinded—the deal would have granted the foreign company access to Sri Lankan waters as well as the right to land and export fish. They also sought higher prices for export tuna, priority for local fishermen and canneries, a marketing plan through the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation and better communication at sea.

“NAFSO (National Fisheries Solidarity) knows fishermen’s needs and is the main protest organization,” Herman Kumara, NAFSO chairman and general secretary of the World Forum of Fisher People, told AsiaNews. “We, the [protest] organisers and the fishermen have a big battle ahead of us to win the few demands we have.”

“On October 18, 2006, we and the fishermen’s representatives met the Fisheries Minister Felix Perera demanding police action against illegal fishing, but six months later no one has been arrested,” Kumara said.

“The minister is against denying fishing licenses to foreign fishing boats. But we must push for action within the law in favour of poor Sri Lankan fishermen,” he added.

He is not alone in complaining. “Foreign fishing vessels come into our waters as participants in joint-ventures but their big trawlers destroy our resources. Our own fishermen are marginalised as their incomes shrink. Things must change,” said W. M. Thomas Fernando, president of the St Anne’s Fisheries Cooperative in Kokilal.

Similarly, K. Titus from Galle, Joseph Sebastian from Negombo, W. Camilus Waas from Thoduwawa, and M. M. Malani from Matara are some of those who joined the protest, carrying posters and shouting slogans.

“We are fighting to defend our fishing rights within the framework of the law,” they told AsiaNews.

Poor fishermen from Sri Lanka’s west coast had already staged a protest rally on March 27 in Galle, in the south-west corner of the country. But the turnout was low.

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