India promises to phase out bottom-trawling

To avoid conflict with Sri Lanka, Indian fishermen will also be trained in less harmful practices

January 03, 2017 01:04 am | Updated 01:04 am IST - COLOMBO:

Indian fishermen would participate in a capacity-building programme in Chennai and Kochi, starting January 3.

Indian fishermen would participate in a capacity-building programme in Chennai and Kochi, starting January 3.

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, following the ministerial-level talks on fisheries held in Colombo, Indian fishermen would participate in a capacity-building programme in Chennai and Kochi, beginning on Tuesday (January 3) and focused on training them in other, less harmful fishing practices.

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

Promising to phase out bottom-trawling — a destructive fishing practice posing a 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 country’s delegation, said that the discussions were positive and that both sides were committed to evolving a solution keeping in mind the interests of fishermen from both countries.

On a proposed legislation in Sri Lanka that would levy heavy fines on foreign vessels trespassing into the island’s territorial waters, the Minister said that the amount of the fine was yet to be finalised.

The two countries made “significant progress” on the proposal to set up a joint patrol mechanism and establish a hotline between their respective coast guards, according to Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran. “The Indian delegation told us that no new licences were being awarded to bottom-trawlers,” he said.

The Joint Working Group, an outcome of the November meeting, would convene in Colombo in April to take the discussions forward.

The two countries have agreed to expedite the release of arrested fishermen, 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 from engaging in illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters, the island nation has, since 2014, been following a policy of retaining the seized trawlers, even as the Indian fishermen are released swiftly.

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 up to ₹7 crore.

The Palk Bay fisheries conflict has been a lingering concern in Indo-Sri Lankan 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.

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