The issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen being caught for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) is an ongoing one.
“There are no boundaries in the sea,” says S. Emarit, a fisher leader from Rameswaram.
One of the pilgrims at the Katchatheevu St. Anthony’s festival that concluded on Sunday his prayer, he says fishermen in India and Sri Lanka should be able to continue fishing without any trouble for either side.
The issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen being caught for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) is an ongoing one. “We are getting tired of saying the same thing over and over again – about our traditional fishing rights, the livelihood issue and all that. We need a solution,” he says, sitting by the island’s shore on Saturday, surrounded by fishermen listening keenly.
Fishermen of both countries will meet in Colombo on March 25 for the second round of talks this year, aimed at addressing this ongoing tussle over the Palk Bay. Northern fishermen of Sri Lanka have repeatedly been raising concerns over their livelihood being badly hit by the Indian trawlers. Nearly 50,000 fishermen in the Province depend on the sea to put their lives back on track after the brutal civil war that spanned about 30 years.
“We hope that the talks work out for both sides. We recognise the problems of our brothers [Sri Lankan fishermen] there,” says Mr. Emarit, president of a Ramanathapuram-based mechanised boats fishermen’s association. “Say mechanised boats, not trawlers,” he says, making sure I do not translate “visaippadagu” to “trawlers”, given its problematic connotation in the Palk Bay conflict.
Fishermen of northern Sri Lanka dread Indian trawlers that, they say, come to their shore, virtually scraping the sea of marine resources and often damaging the nets of Sri Lankan fishermen who use small-sized, basic boats.
One of the key demands of the Sri Lankan side in the previous meeting in Chennai on January 27 was that Indian fishermen stop engaging in bottom trawling. “That is really difficult and we need time – say 3 to 5 years,” says P. Sesu Raja, who heads another mechanised boat fishermen’s association in Ramanathapuram. “Just like you use a cycle, then scooter and later a car, we fishermen move up from a catamaran, then a small boat and graduate to a trawler. We have to keep up with the changing times,” he argues.
With hardly any catch in the Indian waters, they said, Tamil Nadu fishermen were forced to take a risk and cross the boundary line, just so that their family can be assured of a meal.
On the threat of marine resources being completely wiped out on this side, the fishermen say that would not happen and that their catch in Sri Lankan waters — much of it is exported — has been very promising. “Why do you think our fishermen keep coming repeatedly, after being jailed and harmed? It is because they have families, and they desperately need this catch. We have been fishing here for many, many years,” Mr. Sesu Raja says, bringing up the often-told “traditional fishing rights” argument that is said to have little legal bearing, going by the 1974 and 1976 agreements between the two countries.
Mr. Sesu Raja, who will participate in the Colombo talks, says he hopes to reason out with his Sri Lankan counterparts and arrive at a feasible solution. “After all, they are our brothers,” he emphasises.