India must demonstrate goodwill in fishermen issue, says SL Minister

Virtual bilateral discussion slated for December 30

December 17, 2020 02:45 am | Updated 02:45 am IST - COLOMBO

Citing India’s request for the release of fishermen recently arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy on the charge of illegal fishing, Sri Lanka on Wednesday said it is India that needs to demonstrate goodwill by preventing its fishermen from trespassing into Sri Lankan waters.

Addressing a press conference in Vavuniya in the Northern Province, Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda said the Indian authorities had approached the Sri Lankan government, requesting the release of the recently arrested fishermen as a goodwill gesture before a bilateral virtual discussion on the persisting conflict involving the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province. The discussion is scheduled for December 30, a statement from the Minister’s office said. “Honestly, it is India that has to demonstrate goodwill by putting an end to their fishermen’s trespassing activities. Further, since Indian fishermen use banned fishing practices, it poses a great threat to marine biodiversity in the region, that will affect future generations of both countries,” the Minister, who represents the northern Jaffna district in Parliament, said.

The Minister’s statement comes a day after the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 36 Indian fishermen for allegedly poaching on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line, a demarcation of the Palk Strait mutually agreed by the neighbouring countries in the 1970s. The Navy also apprehended five fishing vessels, or bottom trawlers, known to virtually scoop out the ocean bed and destroy marine organisms. The Palk Bay fisheries conflict has been a dominant bilateral concern, especially since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009 and fishermen from the war-affected areas in the north and the east began returning to the sea — which they could not access during the years of strife — to rebuild their livelihoods.

Three years ago, Sri Lanka banned bottom trawling and introduced high fines for offenders and foreign fishing vessels found in the island nation’s territorial waters. The measures, in addition to Colombo’s decision to apprehend seized Indian fishing trawlers for long periods, saw a drop in the number of Indian fishermen being arrested, from over 400 in 2017 to 156 in 2018. However, sections of northern fishermen say they are now spotting Indian trawlers along their coast yet again, after the SL Navy reportedly relaxed surveillance of the seas in the past few months, fearing that trespassers who are arrested could be carriers of COVID-19.

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