India promises to phase out bottom-trawling, points to new initiatives

Sri Lanka Minister Mahinda Amaraweera. File photo  

India on Monday assured Sri Lanka that it would phase out bottom trawling in a “graded, time-bound manner”, pointing to upcoming initiatives to train Indian fishermen in alternative fishing methods.

According to a joint press communique released following ministerial-level talks on fisheries held in Colombo, Indian fishermen would participate in a capacity building progamme in Chennai and Kochi, beginning on January 3, that seeks to train them in other, less harmful fishing practices.

Monday's discussion was a follow-up to the high-level talks held in November, and to the Joint Working Group meeting in held last week, both in New Delhi.

Promising to phase out bottom-trawling — a destructive fishing practice posing serious threat to marine ecosystems — within a “practicable time frame”, India also briefed the Sri Lankan side about the construction of a fishing harbour in Ramanathapuram district, home to thousands of bottom-trawlers in Tamil Nadu.

Addressing a press conference, Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera who led the Sri Lankan delegation, said the discussions were positive and both sides were committed to evolve a solution keeping in mind interests of fishermen from both countries.

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On proposed legislation in Sri Lanka that would reportedly charge heavy fines on foreign vessels trespassing into the island’s territorial waters, the Minister said the amount of fine “has not been finalised.”

The two countries made “significant progress” had been made in the proposal to set up a joint patrol mechanism and a hotline between coast guards of the two countries, according to Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran. “The Indian delegation told us that no new licences are being awarded to bottom-trawlers,” he said at the press conference. Minister of Agriculture Radha Mohan Singh, whose Ministry also oversees Fisheries, led the delegation, which did not participate in the press conference.

The Joint Working Group, an outcome of the November meeting, will next meet in April in Colombo to take the discussions forward.

The two countries agreed to expedite the release of fishermen arrested, the communique said.

Release of trawlers

Both during the November meeting and on Monday, New Delhi reportedly pushed for the release of over 100 Indian trawlers currently in Sri Lankan custody.

In order to deter Indian trawlers engaging in illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters, Sri Lanka has, since 2014, been following a policy of retaining the seized trawlers, even as it swiftly releases the arrested Indian fishermen.

Later this month, Sri Lanka’s lawmakers will discuss two bills pertaining to fisheries in parliament – one, a bill to ban mechanised bottom trawling moved by Mr. Sumanthiran, and another, a likely Foreign Fishing Vessels legislation that entails huge fines for foreign vessels fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters. The Fisheries Ministry is, reportedly, considering imposing penalties upto Rs.7 crore.

The Palk Bay fisheries conflict has been a lingering concern in Indo-Sri Lanka relations. The livelihoods of nearly 2 lakh people across Sri Lanka's Tamil-speaking Northern Province are linked to the sea, and have been badly hit due to the Indian trawlers, originating from Tamil Nadu. While talks between fisher leaders held in 2016 proved inconclusive, the governments are trying to address the problem through a Joint Working Group.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 12:46:36 PM |

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