ri Lanka lost US$ 40 million worth of sea catch a month to Indian fishermen who trespass the Sri Lankan Maritime Boundary to fish, a seminar was told in Colombo recently at the National Library.
Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath, Lecturer at the Colombo University Thiyagaraja Waradas, regional representatives and fishermen from the North and South were present at the seminar.
The main objective of the seminar was also to raise awareness among the public and demonstrate their concerns to the visiting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
The Indian External Affairs Minister was in Sri Lanka on a two-day official visit. Speaking at the event, MP Vijitha Herath said no government had succeeded in effectively responding to the issue of illegal fishing by Indian fishermen.
“Dried fish, sprats and prawns are imported, when Sri Lanka has the ability to cater to these needs. Fishermen who illegally cross the maritime border are coolies and it is the owners and captains of these trawlers who should be arrested and brought before the law,” Herath said.
“Indian fishermen should be arrested based on the 1974 and 1976 treaties, so that the people involved will be penalised. Instead they are arrested under the Immigration Laws and are subsequently released. We have been facing this issue since 1985. The loss of USD 40 million worth of seafood to Tamil Nadu a month is a serious problem. We also find that 50,000 families in the Northern District who depend on fishing suffer as a consequence” he said.
A protest was staged prior to the seminar, in order to raise awareness amongst the public about the imperative issue at hand.
"We find the national security of our country threatened. Not only are illegal fishermen crossing our maritime boundaries, but in some instances, we also find that they cross our shores"
This has also paved the way for the people of the North, South, East and West to fight together for a common goal regardless of caste, creed or race. The day of their protest is of great significance as it was post-Independence Day.
The people of the fisheries community are focused on only one goal, ie; having freedom in their own waters.
Herath said there were three main problems that Sri Lanka was facing due to the Tamil Nadu fishermen.
“We find the national security of our country threatened. Not only are illegal fishermen crossing our maritime boundaries, but in some instances, we also find that they cross our shores. In addition, our economy faces loss of revenue. These poaching fishermen cause damage to the maritime eco-system as well as to the environment. Hence, it can be observed that this is a multi-dimensional issue that must be addressed with haste.”
"Dried fish, sprats and prawns are imported, when Sri Lanka has the ability to cater to these needs. Fishermen who illegally cross the maritime border are coolies and it is the owners and captains of these trawlers who should be arrested and brought before the law"
In his concluding remarks, MP Herath stated that the treaty between India and Sri Lanka in 1974 was based on the maritime boundaries of Sri Lanka. “This clearly states that the historic waters between Sri Lanka and India in the Palk Strait, Palk Bay and the Kachchathivu Island was determined as falling within Sri Lankan waters and those who infringe the treaty would be taken into legal custody.
“However, we find, as Thiyagaraja Waradas stated, that there is no relevance or proper execution of such treaties. We find about 1,500 fishermen crossing our maritime provinces three times a week and only one of the 1,500 illegal fishermen are caught and taken into custody.
“Even those who are caught are remanded without a proper case against them. Hence, because of the poor execution of the treaty, many perceive it as futile. Since the chances of illegal fishermen being caught are slim, they are not anxious to cross our boundaries. This shows that the treaty does not have a deterrent effect on the fishermen of Tamil Nadu,” Herath said.
Pics by Nisal Baduge