his isn’t quite how the Indian press worded Narendra Modi’s request to Maithripala Sirisena when they met in New Delhi on Friday. The headlines in the Indian media said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pushed for a permanent solution to the issue of Indian fishermen during his talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena. The issue is of course illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters.
A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations’ Asian Pacific Fishery Commission ranks IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in the Sri Lankan waters of the Palk Bay as ‘Hot Spot No. 7’ in its regional review of IUU fishing by foreign fishing vessels. The FAO UN report estimates that the number of vessels engaged in IUU fishing in Sri Lanka was 2,625 trawlers, 278 gill-netters and 650 outboard motorboats in 2010. The catch that is illegally harvested by Tamil Nadu trawlers from Sri Lanka waters is estimated to be 100,000 metric tons, annually.
The UN report’s finding tally with records of sighting of Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters by the Sri Lankan Navy. According to navy records Tamil Nadu trawlers made 282,864 illegal fishing trips into Sri Lankan waters between the end of the conflict in 2009 and December last year. 15,374 trawlers fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters were individually identified and the ID numbers communicated to the Indian High Commission in Colombo, according to navy sources.
The decision made last month by the European Commission (EC) to lift the ban on Sri Lankan seafood exports to the European Union (EU) has rightfully been given widespread coverage in the media in recent weeks. The ban was invoked by the EU in October 2014 due to illegal fishing operations by Sri Lankan fishing vessels and the Sri Lankan Government’s failure to report on and regulate Sri Lanka’s High Seas fishery in the Indian Ocean. The ban – which has still not been lifted -- has cost and continues to cost Sri Lanka’s seafood sector hundreds of thousands of euros every month in lost incomes and revenues. Last week, Sri Lanka’s Seafood Exporters’Association Secretary of the Sri Lanka Dilan Fernando wrote to the Sri Lanka President urging him to take up the matter of IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters. In his letter to the President Mr. Fernando noted that independent experts have estimated that Sri Lanka’s losses from IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers costs Sri Lankan fishermen as much as $41 million (LKR 5,293 million) every year.
That’s five billion rupees of Sri Lankan seafood harvested illegally by Tamil Nadu trawlers from Sri Lanka and exported by Tamil Nadu seafood companies as ‘Indian Seafood’. According to the Indian Marine Products Exports Development Authority there are 34 EU registered seafood exporting companies in Tamil Nadu sending ‘Indian seafood’ to the EU.
The EU’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Directorate has this to say on IUU fishing ‘illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, puts honest fishers at an unfair disadvantage, and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries’. To put this in context Ambassador Daly said, IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters puts 20,000 honest Sri Lankan fishermen and their families in the Northern Province at an unfair disadvantage and deprives each household of as much as LKR400,000.00 every year.
"According to navy records Tamil Nadu trawlers made 282,864 illegal fishing trips into Sri Lankan waters between the end of the conflict in 2009 and December last year"
Sri Lanka, fairly to be fair, received a near two year ban from the EC for IUU fishing in the Indian Ocean. Yet blatant, unrepentant, environmentally destructive IUU fishing by Indian vessels in Sri Lankan coastal waters - and probably ‘Product of India’ fish fraud - goes unnoticed by the EU?
There are four things that the Sri Lankan President can do to help the Indian Prime Minister bring about a permanent solution to the problem of persistent IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters. Firstly he can instruct the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to arrest, prosecute and if found guilty, fine Tamil Nadu boat owners for sending their trawlers to fish illegally in Sri Lankan waters under the Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act 1979; stop detaining indefinitely Tamil Nadu fish-workers for violating the Immigrants and Emigrants Act (1948). Secondly, he can instruct the Attorney General’s office to immediately release and repatriate innocent Tamil Nadu fish-workers working on Tamil Nadu trawlers.
If Tamil Nadu trawler owners fail to appear in Sri Lankan courts and or don’t pay their fine, the President can instruct the authorities to confiscate and decommission the boats; sink them! Lastly President Sirisena can instruct the Sri Lankan Navy to arrest the first ten Tamil trawlers to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line, when mechanized fishing resumes in Tamil Nadu on June 1 and to arrest 10 a week - every week - until Tamil Nadu trawlers stop fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters.
The only way Sri Lanka can help India find a permanent solution to the problem of IUU fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters is by enforcing Sri Lankan laws. Only then will Tamil Nadu trawler owners and the Tamil Nadu politicians who support them think twice before sending their trawlers to illegally harvest US$5 million worth of seafood from Sri Lankan waters every year.