India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWG) and a hotline between their Coast Guards to address the long-standing issue of fishermen from Tamil Nadu being arrested, the External Affairs Ministry said here on Saturday.
The decision, taken during talks between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in New Delhi, came three days after fishermen of both countries failed to reach an agreement on ending fishing in Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen.Regular meetings planned
“The [Foreign] Ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues,” a statement issued here said. It was also decided that the JWG would meet every three months while the Ministers of Fisheries on both sides would meet every six months beginning January 2017 along with Coast Guard and Naval representatives to discuss the protracted issue.
On Wednesday, the Rural Fishermen Society president offered a deal for Indian boats to be allowed to fish in Sri Lankan waters for 85 days every year for the next three years before they are phased out. Rejecting that offer, fishermen from Jaffna said they wanted an immediate end to “bottom trawling”, a practice that depletes the ocean’s resources, and refused to return more than 100 trawlers seized by Sri Lankan authorities since 2014.
The terms of reference of the JWG includes “expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest”, as well as framing procedures for returning fishermen arrested by both sides, and the possibility of joint patrolling.
However, the issue of their seized boats is unresolved, and has been an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu, with the State government writing to the Centre on several occasions to negotiate for their release.. “The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting,” the statement said.
Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh, Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera, as well Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways & Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and Sri Lankan MP M.A. Sumanthiran participated in the discussions.