Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen urge Chief Minister Stalin to come up with a progressive solution to conflict

Long-festering problem ‘a threat’ to the two Tamil communities’ historically strong relationship

March 05, 2022 06:55 pm | Updated 06:55 pm IST - Chennai

For many years now, war-affected northern Sri Lankan fishermen have been voicing concerns over depleted catch and recurring damage to fishing gears due to fishing trawlers from Tamil Nadu.

For many years now, war-affected northern Sri Lankan fishermen have been voicing concerns over depleted catch and recurring damage to fishing gears due to fishing trawlers from Tamil Nadu. | Photo Credit: File photo

Reaching out directly to the Tamil Nadu political leadership for the first time, Sri Lankan fishermen have urged Chief Minister M.K. Stalin to come up with a “progressive” solution to the fisheries conflict that affects fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu and war-hit northern Sri Lanka, and “threatens the historically strong relationship” shared by the two Tamil communities. 

In a statement addressed to Mr. Stalin dated March 5, leaders of fishermen’s associations across the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, outlined the challenges faced by the community through the years of the civil war and in the post-war phase, beginning 2009.

“During the war, we were displaced to other districts within the country as well as to south India, losing our loved ones and property,” the representatives said, while thanking Tamil Nadu for providing support and shelter to scores of people who fled the violence. Nearly two lakh persons from Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, whose lives depend on the fisheries sector, are struggling to rebuild their livelihoods in the post-war years amid several challenges. Drastically falling incomes and the burden of debt are “forcing” the younger generation “to abandon fisheries”, they noted.

Trawler trouble

The main reason for their dire socio-economic plight, the Sri Lankan fishermen said, were bottom trawlers originating from Tamil Nadu. They were referring to the large, mechanised boats that Tamil Nadu fishermen use in the narrow Palk Strait separating Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka, to fish using the “bottom trawling” method.

The fishermen on these boats typically drag large fishing nets along the seabed, targeting a huge quantity of fish and prawns. But the technique, widely deemed destructive, also kills other marine organisms, including larvae, baby fish or fry, and sea plants, severely impacting marine biodiversity over time.

The fishing method causes “colossal damage” to marine resources, reducing the production for our small-scale fishermen, both in northern Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu, they pointed out.  The bottom trawlers “encroach into our borders and destroy our nets in the sea, causing us immense property loss,” the Sri Lankan fishermen said, adding that they avoided going to sea on days the trawlers came, fearing losses.

‘Affects relationship’

Further, the Sri Lankan fisher leaders expressed concern that the unresolved problem of Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing in Sri Lankan waters using a dangerous practice, encountering frequent arrests by the Sri Lankan Navy, affected the “historical relationship” between Tamil Nadu fishermen and northern Sri Lankan fishermen.

The Hindu Explains: What is the Palk Bay fisheries conflict?

Several attempts at dialogue among fisher leaders from both sides, between 2004 to 2016, had proved futile, as there was “no political will” at the Central and State level in India to ban the bottom trawling method, the “only solution” to the problem, according to fisher leaders A. Annarasa, Joseph Francis and M. Johnson.

Thanking Chief Minister Stalin for the recent welfare programme for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu, the fisher leaders requested him to take up the issue of the northern Sri Lankan fishing community affected by Tamil Nadu trawlers and solve the long-festering problem with a “progressive vision”.

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