The talks between fishermen of India and Sri Lanka, aimed at evolving a sustainable solution to the Palk Bay conflict, reached a deadlock here on Monday.
Northern Sri Lankan fishermen urged their Indian counterparts to immediately stop using bottom trawlers, but the Indian fishermen said they needed at least three years to completely phase out trawling. The Sri Lankan side was not convinced by the Indian fishermen's offer to bring down the number of days they engage in trawling from 120 to 90, either.
The much-anticipated second round of talks — the first was held in Chennai on January 27 — left fishermen of both sides rather disappointed.
The Indian side was represented by 18 fishermen from across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, with eight government officials monitoring the proceedings, while the Sri Lankan side had 20 fishermen and 10 officials at the meeting that went on from 9 a.m. till 8.30 p.m.
“How can we permit any trawling when it causes so much damage to us?” asked Thangavelu Sathasivam, who heads Sri Lanka’s National Fisheries Federation.
On the other hand, P. Sesu Raja, president of the Ramanathapuram-based mechanised boat fishermen’s association, said: “How can we stop trawling all of a sudden, when so many of our fishermen’s livelihoods depend on that? We are only asking for some more time,” he said.
During the meeting, Indian fishermen assured their Sri Lankan counterparts that they would stop using the banned pair-trawling (rettai madippu valai) and purse seine (surukku madi valai) nets. However, the northern Sri Lankan fishermen were uncompromising in their demand that the Indians immediately stop using trawlers, which in addition to damaging nets used by fishermen in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-speaking Northern Province, poses a major threat to marine resources.
Unable to find common ground, fisher leaders from both sides held a quick meeting with their respective officials, but the outcome did not change either of their positions.
U. Arulanandam of the Tamil-Nadu Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen alleged that Sri Lankan officials introduced the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) as a point of discussion at the last minute, complicating the talks. “It was not on the agenda, we were here to purely discuss alternatives in terms of fishing methods. We feel very let down,” he told The Hindu. The northern fishermen, however, said trespassing was very relevant to their discussion and hence had to be brought up.
The Sri Lankan fishermen said they were disillusioned with the outcome. “The Tamil Nadu fishermen virtually walked out without taking our plea into consideration. We will wait for their response to decide on the third round of talks,” he said.
Asked what they planned to do next, the Sri Lankan fishermen said they would urge their government to take stern action against fishermen who trespass their waters.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne urged the visiting Joint Secretary of India's Foreign Ministry, Suchitra Durai, to hold government-level talks on the fisheries issue at the earliest.