Northern fishermen meet Minister tomorrow

Reiterate boycott of talks, request rations for families for loss of livelihood Following a massive protest in Jaffna this week against Indian fishermen’s poaching in Lankan waters, a delegation of fishermen from the North is due to meet the Fisheries Minister tomorrow to voice their concerns and difficulties they are facing due to the activities of Indian trawlers, a fishermen’s organisation leader said. Jaffna Fishermen’s Association leader Naganathy Ponnambalam told the Sunday Times that his association members will be reiterating their decision to boycott the next round of talks between the fishermen of the two countries. He said since the local fishermen can’t find a good catch due to excessive trawling by Indian fishermen, they are hoping to request the minister to give them rations in the meantime to support their families.

The issue of poaching figured during recent talks between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in New Delhi. The Indian Premier wanted the issue to be resolved between the fishermen of the two countries.

At least ten leaders of fishermen’s organisations representing the fisherfolk in the region will be taking part in the talks with Fisheries Minister Amaraweera tomorrow morning.

Fifteen fishermen’s organisations of Jaffna District staged a protest on Wednesday demanding the Government act immediately to protect their livelihood from illegal poaching by Indian fishermen.

The protest which started from the Office of the Fisheries Department Additional Director marched towards the Government Secretariat and ended in front of the Indian Consulate General in Jaffna. Around 3,000 took part in the protest.

The fishermen had handed over a memorandum to the Indian Consul General A.Natarajan and Jaffna Government Agent N. Vedhanayagam.

In that petition the fishermen asked the Indian Government to make sure that Indian fishermen should not poach in Lankan waters which is the only primary source for the Lankan fishermen.

According to the fishermen the Indian Consul General told them that he will take up the matter with the officials in New Delhi.

When the protest was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, the Navy arrested six Indian fishermen from Nagapattinam along with two boats for poaching in the early hours.This arrest comes days after the arrest of another batch of fifteen Indian fishermen and seizure of their two boats.

The fifteen fishermen were remanded till October 6 by the Point Pedro Magistrate while the six fishermen were produced before the Kayts Court Magistrate and remanded till October 8.

Days after the arrests of the Indian fishermen Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take “positive and concrete steps” to secure the immediate release of the arrested fishermen.

The Chief Minister asked Prime Minister Modi to “find suitable mechanisms to resolve this long pending fishing dispute between India and Sri Lanka by retrieving Katchathivu and restoring the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen.”

“As I have reiterated on several occasions my Government strongly believes that the unconstitutional Indo-Sri Lankan Agreements of 1974 and 1976 should be nullified and the traditional rights of our fishermen restored at the earliest.” she said in the letter.

Fisheries Ministry Director General M.C.L.Fernando told the Sunday Times that the Government stand on the Palk Bay conflict is that it will continue to try to find a reasonable solution with the help of the fishermen of the two countries.

“We understand our fishermen’s recent decision to boycott the next round of talks. The Indian side has to initiate the talks since they are very much part of the issue,” he said.

Mr. Fernando said while both governments are viewing this issue from a humanitarian perspective, both governments should consider the political angle to find a lasting solution

Wellbeing Masterclass 23-26th March Jaffna University, Sri Lanka

From 23-26 March 2015 Dr Nicky Pouw and Mrs. Dilanthi Koralagama of the Reincorpfish project team organized a Master course on how to design and implement wellbeing research in the post-conflict fisheries communities of Northern Sri Lanka. This formed part and parcel of the capacity building element of the Reincorpfish project. The course consisted of four full-day sessions at Jaffna University, facilitated by the Department of Geography and hosted by Professor Soosai. The course developed in-depth knowledge and understanding of the concept and theory of wellbeing, and how this idea can be operationalized in practice for doing research and informing development policy and practices on the ground. The course included several hands-on components whereby participants brought in their own research and development concerns, ranging from concerns about resettlement in the North, to unemployment and social problems among youth, gender based violence, post-conflict reconciliation challenges, developing alternative economic activities, and how to start envisioning plans for the future again. The participants were Master-level students from Jaffna University (10) and Ruhuna University (4) who interested to undertake field-research on a particular development problem themselves. In addition, two lecturers from Ruhuna University also participated in the training. The course facilitated the exchange of ideas and experiences between Northern and Southern students, thus fostering inter-cultural dialogue and establishing longer-term relations in and outside the classroom. Follow-up visits, by lecturers and students from Jaffna to Ruhuna, were already planned afterwards. To support the English communication within the classroom, participants benefitted from a course reader that was specifically developed for this course, translating all the academic and policy background materials and study reports into an accessible language. The reader is available on-line

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No country for small fishers

In Sri Lanka, encroachment by Indian trawlers, joint ventures with East Asian vessels and the recent EU ban on seafood exports have a common impact: they cripple small-scale fishers

On October 20, hundreds of angry fishers from south Sri Lanka protested in front of the Fisheries Ministry in Colombo against a European Union (EU) ban on seafood exports from Sri Lanka and the government’s promotion of joint ventures with East Asian fishing companies. Over the years, there have been numerous protests by Northern fishers against poaching by Indian trawlers. These are a reflection of a larger crisis in Sri Lankan fisheries; the fishers face dispossession and fear the end of their way of life.

More than 12 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total population — 2.4 out of 20 million — is dependent on the fisheries sector; in the Northern Province this is as high as 20 per cent. Fish provides a source of vital food security to the poor, with Sri Lankans on average eating 24 kg of fish per year.

Trawling by Tamil fishers

Fisheries in the North, recovering from a devastating war, are crippled by the persistent poaching by trawlers from Tamil Nadu. However, in Tamil Nadu, fishers and politicians have projected this issue as one of bona fide fishers being hauled by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Over the years, Indian trawlers have damaged expensive nets resulting in increased indebtedness of Northern fishers. And now, on the three days of the week when Indian trawlers venture into their waters, Northern fishers either stay home or go for smaller near-shore fishing. The result is a substantial loss of income.

Sadly, the Palk bay fishing conflict has become entangled in the politics of polarisation, without a solution for fishers’ livelihoods and Tamil Nadu’s overcapitalised trawler fleet.

The Southern fishers of Sri Lanka involved in deep-sea fishing were relatively unhindered except for occasional arrests in the Indian waters. This deep-sea fishing fleet is famous throughout the world for deploying the relatively small 10-16 metre vessels packed with water, ice and rations; making journeys lasting weeks; and travelling thousands of km into the Indian Ocean in search of tuna and shark.

However, in a shocking development, the EU, on October 14, announced a ban on seafood imports from Sri Lanka, from January 15, 2015. This is likely to have severe economic consequences for Southern fishers, as 70 per cent of Sri Lanka’s fisheries exports are to Europe. The EU argues that Sri Lanka has failed to cooperate in eliminating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. According to newspaper reports, the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the ‘red card’ was the sighting of Sri Lankan-flagged fishing boats in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Diego Garcia, a ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.

What led to this development? One factor has been Sri Lanka’s questionable allocation of licences to relatively large East Asian fishing vessels. These joint ventures are linked to the overambitious targets for increased fish production, inspired by Sri Lanka’s post-war high growth development regime.

Sri Lankan boats are regularly sighted in foreign waters, going against the EU mantra of regulated and traceable fishing. But it is the Sri Lankan-flagged multinational vessels that were reported to the EU for illegal fishing in Diego Garcia.

Yet, this ban is fishy! The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission database reveals that in 2013, Sri Lanka’s fleet of 2230 boats caught 10 per cent of tuna, while the EU caught 16 per cent of the total tuna landings from the Indian Ocean.

The EU fleet consists of 81 industrial vessels with an average capacity 50 times that of one Sri Lankan vessel. The contribution of this European fleet to employment and food security is not only nil to the people of the Indian Ocean, but also marginal to Europeans themselves.

How have European fleets ended up in the distant Indian Ocean? And how can the EU reprimand Sri Lanka for fishing near Diego Garcia?

As per the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a treaty which added 200 nautical miles (360km) territorial extension called the ‘exclusive economic zone’ (EEZ) to nations’ territorial waters, exclusive resource exploitation rights were provided to European countries occupying strategic colonial islands. Thus, in 1982, the U.K. gained exclusive exploitation rights over 639,000 of seas around Diego Garcia, a barren archipelago used as a U.S. military base. Since then, an Indian or a Sri Lankan fisherman in these waters is considered a ‘poacher’, subject to punishment by the EU.

Seen from this historical perspective, banning Sri Lanka’s tuna exports in the name of sustainability and non-compliance is both paternalistic and hypocritical. In Sri Lanka, officials and fishermen alike have been wondering why the EU hasn’t applied the same IUU sanctions in relation to Tamil Nadu’s intense poaching in Sri Lankan waters.

When law trumps lives

There is no doubt that fisheries require some form of regulation. However, at present, international law; science-based management; ideas about state sovereignty and territory; and grand development visions are increasingly determining fishery policies.

Fishers’ concerns have been ignored in the larger geopolitical game of state interests. With dialogue between fishers from both sides of the Palk Bay deadlocked, the two governments are now driving the negotiations.

Significantly, President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered the release of all Indian fishermen in custody, immediately after India abstained from backing a U.N. human rights resolution against Sri Lanka early this year. Similarly, Southern fishers may face new rules, negotiated between their government and the EU, which may aggravate ground realities. Few decades back, it was the India-Norway statist modernisation vision that led to the introduction of the ecologically devastating practice of bottom-sea trawling in India.

The encroachment by Indian trawlers; the Sri Lankan companies’ joint ventures with East Asian vessels; and the EU ban have a common impact. They cripple small-scale fishers who are powerless in the face of decisions taken at the level of states and international forums.

The development argument in Sri Lanka, that supporting technologically ‘inefficient’ small-scale fisheries is economically unrealistic and naive, does not hold water.

The alternatives for men and women from the fishing community have been to migrate to work in the Middle East and countries such as Italy, or work in the garment factories in the Free Trade Zones. Both options require getting separated from their communities and families and carrying out mainly unskilled and precarious work elsewhere. By comparison, small-scale fisheries continue to provide decent livelihoods with dignity.

(Joeri Scholtens is a researcher at the Centre for Maritime Research, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Ahilan Kadirgamar is a researcher and political economist based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.)

India, Sri Lanka hold first meeting on fisheries-related issues


India, Sri Lanka hold first meeting on fisheries-related issues

India and Sri Lanka explored avenues for bilateral cooperation in fisheries at the first meeting of their Joint Committee on Fisheries related issues here yesterday.

The Indian delegation to the meeting was led by Dr. Raja Sekhar Vundru, Joint Secretary (Fisheries), Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries and the Sri Lankan delegation was led by Mr. Nimal Hettiarachchi, Director General, Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources.

An official press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said the two sides agreed to examine joint opportunities between respective scientific institutes in research, development and capacity building.

The Joint Committee noted that there are currently no bonafide fishermen in each other’s custody. The two sides also discussed opportunities for joint venture mechanisms in fisheries.

In acknowledging the need to maintain the momentum of bilateral dialogue process under the ambit of the Joint Committee mechanism on fisheries related issues, both sides agreed to organise the next round of meeting of the Joint Committee in Colombo at a suitable date, to be decided in due course by mutual consultations.

Source: NetIndian News Network


Keeping India at bay

Ahilan Kadirgamar
India’s support for devolution of power and substantive demilitarisation are all overshadowed by the Palk Bay fishing conflict between Tamil Nadu fishers and Northern Sri Lankan fishers. Read more