India is for a formal pact, but Sri Lanka wants informal solutions to start with

India and Sri Lanka have intensified efforts to resolve the issue of fishermen from both countries plying their trade in a “limited pool of water,” according to officials briefing journalists on External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's recent visit to the island nation.

After a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries, when all problems were discussed, the two sides are looking at an interaction between fishermen, wherein some solutions are likely to be aired.

India was keen on a formal document with legal implications. Sri Lanka did not express its reluctance in as many words, but favoured informal solutions to start with.

Sustainable aquaculture

India presented a non-paper and proposed a variety of options for joint management of resources, setting up of bio-parks and promotion of sustainable aquaculture. “Our endeavour is to reach an agreement that addresses livelihood issues on both sides, and fishing takes place in a safe and secure manner,” informed sources said.

Asymmetry

India recognises that there is asymmetry on its side in terms of the number of boats and their size. “We felt that is natural because of the country's size. But this issue has been compounded by the Sri Lankan government's very stringent measures on fishing till the end of the conflict in July/August 2009. They are now getting back into the waters, and there is bound to be some situation in which there are competing claims for very limited resources,” the sources said.

Besides the Centre, the Tamil Nadu government has some measures in mind. These include creating harbours in the northern part of the State for mechanised boats to go straight to the Indian Ocean, bypassing areas that have limited resources. Tamil Nadu is also trying to phase out bottom trawlers by denying refinance or not renewing the licences.

The sources said the Sri Lankan government was very helpful when a cyclone hit the region late last month, leaving more than 40 Indian fishermen stranded in eight or nine Sri Lankan ports. Colombo hosted them, got their boats repaired and escorted them to the maritime boundary, where the Coast Guard took them under its wings.

The Sri Lankan government contrasts this with the treatment of their fishermen detained in the Indian States that do not have a joint interrogation team. On Andaman & Nicobar Islands, for instance, six Sri Lankan fishermen have been detained for two years with no end in sight to their travails, the sources said.