“The whole water turns muddy as the Indian trawlers leave”

“They [Indian fishermen] will come again on Saturday night,” said Antony Pillai, head of a clutch of unions representing fishermen in the Jaffna peninsula, referring to poaching in Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen. “They come in large numbers; it is as if a huge island is moving,” he added, even as his colleagues nodded in agreement.

A huge group of boats came on Wednesday from Thangachimadam, one fisherman said. And, yes, they scrapped the bottom near Neduntheevu, and adjoining islands.

“Earlier, one boat held the net and they did the bottom trawling. Now there are two boats on either side holding a huge net in some cases,” said a fisherman. The whole water turns muddy as the trawlers leave, he added.

Ironically, they are thankful to the Tamil Nadu government. Apparently, diesel subsidy is limited and does not allow the fishermen to take to sea the trawlers as often as they would have liked. “They need at least two huge barrels to last the journey. They have curtailed the number of voyages because of limited diesel subsidy,” said Antony.

The Jaffna fishermen claim that they have seen at least a few Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen on the Indian boats. It appears that these fishermen were in camps in Mandapam or elsewhere. One fisherman, who had been at the Mandapam camp and is now back in Jaffna, said it was not difficult to get out or find work on a boat in any of the fishing hamlets in south Tamil Nadu. The Sri Lankan fishermen steer the boats towards areas they are familiar with.

Asked about the fishermen-to-fishermen talks, which were initiated with much hope, Antony said there was no positive outcome. “We have been talking to each other since 2004. On March 4 this year, at Kachchateevu, during the festival, the Indian fishermen said they would stop bottom trawling with immediate effect. The Indian fishermen did not keep their word, the fishermen said in unison.

Antony said fishermen in his cooperative were even willing to abide by Abdul Kalam’s suggested formula of using the Palk Straits as a common resource. But for this, the Indians will have to give up bottom trawling first, he said.

About 20,000 fishing families live in Jaffna where the dwindling catch is pushing up fish prices in the peninsula.

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