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Indian trawlers are back, say Sri Lanka's fishermen

Fishermen from northern Sri Lanka in a file photo   | Photo Credit: Picasa

Sri Lanka’s northern fishermen have reported a “sudden increase” in the number of Indian trawlers spotted in the island’s territorial waters, flagging an old problem that seriously impaired their post-war recovery.

Fishermen along the northern coast of Jaffna Peninsula, especially Point Pedro, have complained to northern Fisheries authorities about their nets being found damaged in the sea, after being caught under the large Indian trawlers that were reportedly in Sri Lanka's territorial waters.

Familiar with the brutal impact that Indian trawlers had on their fish production and the marine habitat in the post-war decade – scooping out marine organisms, including fishes and prawns – the northern Tamil fishermen fear that their livelihoods, now under strain due to the coronavirus pandemic that has impaired exports, would be further hit by the trawlers. The Indo-Lanka fisheries conflict became a strain on the countries’ bilateral ties, with talks at the highest levels and among fisher leaders on both sides proving futile for years.

After some respite in the last couple of years, since Sri Lanka introduced tougher laws banning bottom-trawling, and heavy fines for trespassing foreign vessels, the reappearance of Indian vessels along their shores has come as a shock, fisher leader said. While the Sri Lankan Navy arrested over 450 Indian fishermen in 2017, they arrested only 156 in 2018 on charges of poaching. A total of 210 arrests were made in 2019, while 34 have been made so far in 2020.

“But now, they [Indian trawlers] are back again and many fishermen in our area have lost their nets worth lakhs of rupees,” said Vythipillai Arulthas, a fisherman based in Point Pedro, who was part of many bilateral fisher leaders’ talks.

Fisheries authorities have received at least 10 complaints of damaged nets in the last few days, according to Jayarajasingham Sudaharan, Assistant Director at the Fisheries Department in Jaffna. “There is an increase in the number of such complaints,” the official said.

Fisher leader K. Rajachandran, based in Jaffna’s Karai Nagar, said fishermen in his area usually left the shores around 2.30 p.m. and ventured into the sea. “We spread out nets, then have our meals and take a little nap in our boats. Then we pull back the nets with the catch and head back to the shore around 4 a.m. But in the past few days, our fishermen are rushing back before 2 a.m., after sighting Indian trawlers in the vicinity,” he said.

COVID-19 scare?

Pointing to more Indian trawlers -- known to originate from Tamil nadu -- “visible” from their shores, fishermen in the Tamil-majority Northern Province wonder if the Sri Lankan Navy is reluctant to arrest the trespassing fishermen from Tamil Nadu now, due to the Covid-19 prevalence in India. “We don’t know, but many of us feel the Navy might hesitate to arrest the Tamil Nadu fishermen fearing they might be carriers of the coronavirus that is raging in India,” Mr. Arulthas told The Hindu.

Navy personnel make up for the largest cluster in the total 2,081 Covid-19 cases so far reported in Sri Lanka. As many as 892 patients within the Navy have recovered so far, while 13 are undergoing treatment in hospitals, according to Navy Spokesman Lt Commander Isuru Sooriyabandara. “We continue to be very vigilant along our borders not just to monitor illegal fishing, but also to take action on any illicit activity such as narcotics trade. Coronavirus is not specific to India alone, it could enter our borders from anywhere, so there is no connection to that,” he told The Hindu. “Sometimes we chase away the trawlers, sometimes we seize them and arrest the fishermen – depending on which part of the sea they are in, the winds, the safety element. The Navy is doing our best,” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 12:23:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/indian-trawlers-are-back-say-sri-lankas-fishermen/article32024955.ece

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