I was transported to the 1970s when I read the report on Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen (May 10). There were frequent instances of damage to the fishing gear of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen by Tamil Nadu fishermen even then. But they were informally settled by the fishermen themselves. At times, junior level officials used to make trips by sea to the north-west fishing villages of Sri Lanka to resolve the issues through mediation. A counsellor from Sri Lanka also used to visit Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu informally to sort out things with the local representatives of fishermen.
Later, the official Coordination Committee consisting of officials and fishermen leaders of both sides was constituted. But it became non-functional after 1983, as the Sri Lankan government declared its north-west coastal and maritime area a Protected Zone, prohibiting fishing. This came as a blessing to the fishermen of Tamil Nadu. Another issue is the mode of fishing. Sri Lankan fishermen engage in pelagic fishing with their passive gear and Tamil Nadu fishermen in bottom trawling, which results in depletion of resources. This damages the fishing nets of the Sri Lankan fishermen.
The report has exposed the highhanded behaviour of our fishermen. Dr. Arunthavaraja, lecturer of history in Jaffna University, who undertook a field study on the plight of the Sri Lankan fishing community, once told me how fishermen of Tamil Nadu, thanks to the unstinted support they got from their political leaders, had started resorting to aggressive means causing enormous hardship to their counterparts in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan fisherpersons still depend on the conventional mode of fishing, while in India there are huge trawlers engaged in ‘overfishing.’ Those arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy were often found foraying into Sri Lankan waters. Because of their necessity to subsist only on fish, our fisherfolk fall prey to the tempting monetary offers of trawler owners.
Keywords: Tamil Nadu fishermen