More Indian trawlers have been allegedly fishing near the northern coastline of Sri Lanka over the past two weeks, Jaffna-based fisher leaders say, the Hindu newspaper reported.
The fishermen from both sides got into a tussle at sea recently, after the nets of those from the northern region of the island nation were damaged. “There was a major problem in Vadamarachchi a couple of days ago when our nets had been damaged by the Indian trawlers,” said Josephpillai Sinthathurai, a fisherman based in Madagal in northern Jaffna.
“Earlier, the Sri Lankan Navy took action promptly, but now they seem reluctant to arrest Indian fishermen who are poaching,” he said. When contacted, Navy spokesperson Kosala Warnakulasooriya said: “We received no such complaint from the fishermen.”
In the past few days, northern fishermen suffered damages ranging from Sri Lankan rupees 75,000 to 1 lakh, Mr. Sinthathurai said. “Most of us have already borrowed heavily to make ends meet. With the unceasing problem of Indian trawlers poaching in our waters, our livelihoods have been badly hit,” he said.
The fisherfolk are helpless as the Navy is silent, says Nataraja Rathnaraja, a fisher cooperative leader in Mayilitythurai in the Jaffna peninsula.
Fishermen attributed the Navy’s “inaction” to the high-level bilateral visits coming up in the two countries. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is scheduled to visit India from February 15 to 17, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Sri Lanka in mid-March.
The Sri Lankan side is also working on releasing the 87 Indian trawlers in its custody. The trawlers are expected to be released in the coming week, ahead of the President’s visit.Officials in decision-making circles in Colombo told The Hindu, on condition of anonymity, that they would be lenient on Indian fishermen found poaching, considering the upcoming high-level visits aimed at improving relations between India and Sri Lanka.
No official complaint about Indian trawlers fishing in Sri Lankan waters has so far been made to the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
“It is total destruction. The last few weeks have been a disaster for our fishermen,” said K. Rajachandran, secretary, Jaffna District Fisheries Federation.
“Unlike before, Indian trawlers now come and fish in our waters without any issue. Our fishermen are dejected,” he said.
While Indo-Lanka relations are rapidly improving with high level state visits, the Palk Bay fishing conflict is taking a nasty turn, according to Jaffna-based researcher Ahilan Kadirgamar. “The optimism that came with the change of Government here and now better relations between the two countries can only be sustained among the fishing communities if talks towards a solution are announced soon,” he said.
The Palk Bay conflict has proved a major strain on Indo-Lanka relations over the last few years. Nearly 700 Indian fishermen were arrested in 2014 on charges of poaching.