3½ ton offshore, one-day fishing boat converted for illegal trawl net fishing in Jaffna
- TN operates 5000 vessel armada for poaching in SL waters
- Over 400 boats were converted to trawl net fishing in North
Sri Lankan fishermen’s leaders from across the north met with Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray in Jaffna last week to hand over a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena. In their letter the representatives from fishing communities in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mannar called upon the President to step up measures to stop destructive fishing practices by foreign and local fishing vessels in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, off the northwestern tip of the island.
A resurgence of Illegal, Unreported and Unreported (IUU) by Tamil Nadu (TN) trawlers on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar was highlighted by Mohammed Alam, Vice President of the Mannar District Fisheries Cooperative Societies’ Union during a seminar on the Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act (Amendment) No. 1 of 2018 held recently in Mannar. The seminar for government officers, law enforcement agencies, fishermen’s leaders and lawyers conducted by Colombo-based lawyers Chinthtaka Fernando and Subramaniam Kamalayogesvaran highlighted the key amendments to the Act and explored options to use these new provisions to end IUU fishing by TN trawlers in Sri Lankan waters.
While welcoming the Attorney General’s efforts to review, revise and thereby strengthen the Act’s effectiveness as a deterrent to IUU fishing by foreign fishing vessels in Sri Lankan waters, Alam noted that unless the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) is given orders to regularly arrest TN trawlers, the Act’s utility is diminished. Civil society leaders participating in a similar seminar held in Jaffna called upon the government to deploy more SLN vessels off the northern coast; issue orders for the navy to regularly arrest TN vessels fishing in Sri Lankan waters and then prosecute the boat owners under the recently amended Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Act. The seminars in Mannar and in Jaffna were co-financed by The Asia Foundation.
The problem of Tamil Nadu trawlers fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters is a remnant of the civil conflict. For almost 30 years, the SLN was unable to enforce Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar. This was due to the active presence of Sea Tiger bases along the northern and southern coast of Mannar District and in Mullaitivu. The vacuum created by the conflict was quickly filled by opportunistic TN boat owners in Rameshwaram, Thondi, Pattukottai and Nagapattinum. Over a period of 30 years, they built up a 5,000 vessel strong armada of mechanized trawlers with the sole intention of fishing exclusively in Sri Lankan waters.
The problem of TN trawlers fishing illegally in SL waters is a remnant of the civil conflict. For almost 30 years, the SLN was unable to enforce Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar
Since 2009, successive Sri Lankan governments have slowly but surely recovered and re-asserted Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to the sustainable exploitation of marine resources on the Sri Lanka side of the International Maritime Boundary Line. Despite often strident protests from the State Government of TN various politicians, boat owners and civil society groups in TN the Central Government of India and the courts in Chennai have repeatedly acknowledged Sri Lanka’s sovereign rights on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, including those associated with the tiny islet of Kachchativu.
Francis Joseph (left) President – Pooneryn Fishermen’s Cooperative Societies’ Union
N. M. Alam Vice President, Mannar District Fishermen’s Cooperative Societies’ Union
And yet for Sri Lankan fishermen in the north the issue of illegal, destructive fishing to ebb and flow, much like the tide. N. M. Alam and Joseph Francis President of the Pooneryn Fishermen’s Cooperative Union reiterated this point at the press conference held after the fishermen’s leaders’ meeting with the Governor last week. As they said, if the government of the day does not remain vigilant and if the President as Head of the Armed Forces refrained from issuing orders to arrest the TN boats, then slowly and but surely they would return to disrupt the livelihoods of northern fishermen; and destroy the marine resources upon which these livelihoods depend.
The destruction of Sri Lanka’s marine resources in the north is not unfortunately restricted to the actions of TN trawlers. In what is an ironic twist of fate, the success of northern fishermen’s campaign to end IUU fishing by TN trawlers in Sri Lankan waters, has created an opportunity for Sri Lankan boat owners in the north to commence illegal trawl net fishing in their place! According to local fishermen’s leaders that I met recently in Delft, more than 400 3½ ton, offshore, one-day fishing boats have been brought to the north and converted for trawl net fishing by local boat owners since 2012. Unless the Governor and the President intervene, one form of destructive fishing looks set to be replaced by another.