Sri Lanka

Indian bottom trawlers cause Rs.700 million damage to Sri Lankan fishing gear

July 4, 2024 5:20 am


Colombo, July 4 (Daily Mirror) – Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Ministry has estimated the damage done to fishing gear of Sri Lanka fishermen by Indian bottom trawlers at Rs.700 million and communicated it to the Indian authorities including External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar.

Indian bottom trawlers, indulgent in IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing has become an irritant to bilateral relations between the two countries. Poaching continues unabated in the Palk-bay and Gulf of Mannar, sea areas with one of the richest biological diversity with almost 20 percent of Indian Ocean creatures. This includes highly economically important marine species such as shrimp, sea cucumber, conch and pearl oyster.

According to the communication sent to the Indian Minister on an earlier occasion, more than 1,000 Indian trawlers, mainly from Tamil Nadu such as Ramanathapuram, Puthukodai, Nagapatnam and Karaikal cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar and fish in Sri Lankan Waters and reach as close as 200 meters off the shoreline.

In bottom trawling, two heavy metal panels are fixed at both sides of the mouth of the net to make sure it scrapes the seabed. According to Ministry sources, trawler boats, in the process, scoop up thousands of tons of bycatch – mostly juvenile fish and crustaceans. Whenever bottom trawlers are present in Sri Lankan waters, the Sri Lankan fishermen in the north don’t venture into the sea due to risk of damage to their nets and boats and threat to their lives.

Sri Lankan fishers mostly use traditional, basic fishing methods such one Day Fibre Reinforced Plastic (OFRP) vessels (mostly 18-21 feet) with 8 – 40 Horse Power engines , and they cannot compete with much larger (60-83 feet) 400 HP Indian vessels. The Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Amendment Act No. 1 of 2018 enables legitimate power to the Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Coast Guard to arrest foreign boats and empowers the Magistrate to detain the captured boats and to give suspended sentences for first-time offenders.

Earlier, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda proposed the establishment of Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar Joint Marine Fisheries Resources Management Authority. The proposal was handed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 but no action could be pursued because of the pandemic.

According to the 1976 agreement, Sri Lankan fishermen are barred from engaging in fishing in Indian waters including the Wadge Bank and Indian Fishermen from fishing in the Sri Lankan Waters. The India-Sri Lanka Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries met three times and the Joint Working Group (JWG) four times in January 2016, April and October 2017 and in December 2020. Sri Lanka is asking for reconvening the meetings of these two bodies.

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