A day after the 45-day ban on trawling in Tamil Nadu ended, 33 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy on Sunday, on charges of poaching.
According to sources with the Sri Lankan Navy, the fishermen were arrested off Thalaimannar and seven trawlers used by them were seized.
The arrest assumes significance, as it is the first instance of Indian fishermen allegedly engaging in bottom-trawling on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) after the second round of talks between fishermen of both countries.
Leaders of fishermen from the two countries could not reach a consensus at the May 12 meeting in Colombo, with Indian fishermen unwilling to meet the demand from their northern Sri Lankan counterparts’ that they stop bottom-trawling immediately.
The Indians agreed to stop using pair-trawling (rettai madippu valai) and purse seine (surukku madi valai) nets — which are banned in Sri Lanka — but asked for three years’ time to completely phase out trawling. Sri Lankan fishermen, however, said allowing bottom-trawling — Indian fishermen are charged with crossing the IMBL and engaging in illegal fishing activity — any longer would further endanger marine resources, causing permanent damage.
The Palk Bay conflict has been a challenging issue in bilateral relations. At the recent meeting between Prime Minister Narendra MOdi Manmohan Singh and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the leaders emphasised the need to address the issue affecting the livelihoods of fishermen in both countries, particularly those in the war-torn Northern Province.