IUU fishing in Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar

1 October 2013 05:37 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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A recent headline in a Sri Lankan weekly newspaper titled “Tamil Nadu  Exports Fish Robbed from Sri Lanka” prompted me to highlight the legal  implications  of such activity generally referred to as IUU (Illegal Unreported and or Unregulated) Fishing and  stem from non –compliance   with fisheries regulations that is evident worldwide  since 1990 and is due to problems focusing  in managing high sea s fish stocks ,  as well as  highly migratory and straddling stocks.




IMBL
The International Maritime Boundary   Line (IMBL) between Sri Lanka and India  was clearly established in  June 1974 by Agreement between the Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and India  defined by 6  positions of Latitude and Longitude (Article 1).IMBL is not an “arbitrary line”   as  reported. Further the IMBL was extended  to cover the Bay of Bengal  totaling 13 positions in March 1976 in an Agreement  signed by the Foreign Secretaries  representing  the two countries. Further in 1976 and Agreement on  the Tri junction Point between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives (13A) were signed  by the  Foreign Secretaries representing the three countries. Accordingly, the IMBL between India and Sri Lanka is not “arbitrary “ but demarcated by exact points of Latitude and Longitude.

The demarcation of the Fisheries Line can be traced back to 1921 and ran 3 miles west of Kachchativu  but was not ratified and remained porous (refer to Appendix A  Kachchativu : and  the Maritime Boundary of Sri Lanka –W.T. Jayasinghe 2003)  .

However the IMBL demarcated in 1974 between  Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar runs 1 mile west of Kachchativu apportioned the waters between India and Sri Lanka. Consequently, Sri Lankan fishermen were free to carry out fishing in Sri Lankan waters without hindrance or harassment from intruders. It is noted that the seas particularly around Kachchativu    are rich in prawns and other fish with high export value. However the Sri Lankan fishermen  are at a drawback  without equipment to expand their operations.

A case in point is the local fishermen  were not equipped with outboard motors of adequate horse-power and  trawlers   for  the prawn grounds in the area. The recent exposure shows that the Indian fishing vessels  are more powerful and could easily encroach into these high productive fishing grounds particularly to enhance the catch  for multi- billion dollar exports as reported.




UNCLOS guidelines
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  provides  clear guidelines for  the legal regime of the high seas and is based  on traditional concepts  as flag State responsibility and rights of coastal States. However it has very weak provisions  governing  transboundary  fish stocks  (as the case of IMBL between Sri Lanka and India) and fisheries outside the EEZ  encouraging States  to seek cooperative arrangements to manage such fisheries. Further UNCLOS  reiteration of a “freedom to fish “  on the high seas (Article  87) has  encouraged   IUU Fishing and dampens attempts to control such activity.. To cover this deficiency  other legal  instruments , specially the Fish Stock Agreement  and Compliance Agreement  related to Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks  and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks have been developed.

Enforcement and compliance are the major instruments to combat IUU Fishing. Limitations in these  regimes  as seen  on   our  IMBL would lead to   development of other tools  particularly trade related measures  to address IUU Fishing for  example certification by WTO internationally.

According the local  media report  Tamil Nadu government is  accused  of “Robbing  Fish from Sri Lanka  for a Multibillion –rupee industry feeding US, EU, Japan while engaged in banned IUU fishing “However from the above analyses of this problem it is quite difficult  to effectively ban IUU Fishing.
Monitoring Control and Surveillance improvement

Further according to the FAO “improvement in Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) and their effective implementation in waters under national jurisdiction and in the high seas represent the best  hope for preventing , deterring, and eliminating IUU Fishing” .

Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS)  and sophisticated communication systems  are common on distant water and high sea vessels .However  the problem of controlling  fishing across our IMBL is a bi lateral task and it is recommended that the Ministry of External Affairs study this problem in close cooperation with the Fisheries Ministry , Navy and NARA and evolve a strategy of  combating illegal fishing across the IMBL. To this end a bi lateral agreement  between Sri Lanka and  India  within the guidelines of the International Plan of Action to Prevent Deter and Eliminate Illegal Unreported  and Unregulated Fishing (IPOA on IUU ) is recommended.
It is my view that the most effective instrument to prevent IUU Fishing  across the IBML within the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar and even further south as well as in the north east is  to conduct joint patrolling by the Coast Guards of  Sri Lanka and India within each stretch jointly  with efficient communication systems and also educate the fishermen of both countries  about the consequences of crossing the IMBL.

Arresting and detaining and prosecuting  fishermen from  both sides will not  lead to any solution. Further assistance from the FAO will also help to facilitate such action. IUU Fishing in our EEZ and the high seas  is another problem which has to be tackled by the GOSL in order to  improve economic and social advancement   of the fishermen in the country and also enhance  our export earnings.




Non-adherence to demarcation
Another serious drawback according to my knowledge  is that  a definite demarcation of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has not been carried out by the GOSL with  relevant charts indicating Latitude and Longitude at each position and such charts have not been deposited with the Office of the Secretary General United Nations   as required  under  Articles 74 and 75 of UNCLOS.  

This is a major deficiency to monitor IUU Fishing in the EEZ as well as identifying the High Seas and it is recommended  that the GOSL  initiate such action without delay. Further such demarcations will also facilitate  the GOSL to enter into JVs with foreign companies to carry out commercial fishing activities for export and also encouraging floating fish canneries .

(The write is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations  ESCAP who was also in  charge of Marine Affairs and can be contacted at fasttrack@eol.lk )
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