Fishermen across Sri Lanka protest alleged Indian poaching
ECONOMYNEXT – Fishermen across Sri Lanka stood in solidarity with their northern peers on Thursday (23), protesting what they called illegal fishing by Indian nationals in Sri Lankan waters.
Fishermen from 18 districts took part in a protest outside Fort station and marched to nearby Lipton Circus to demand an end to alleged poaching and banned practices such as bottom trawling.
The demonstration was organized by the National Fishing Solidarity Movement.
TH Harrison (70), a fisherman from Dodanduwa, Galle, told EconomyNext that the impacts of Indian poaching are not limited to the island’s northern waters.
“The situation in India does not only affect the North. Southern fishermen are also suffering. The fish migrate around the island, and when the Indians with their big boats come and take all the fish, we won’t have any fish left,” Harrison said.
Mackerel, squid and big-eyed scads are among the types of fish that are depleting, he said.
Fishermen in the North have complained about Indian poaching for years, with Sri Lankan authorities routinely arresting Indian fishermen and confiscating their boats and equipment.
South Indian fishing vessels had become accustomed to straying away from the Indo-Lankan sea border during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, when Sri Lankan fishermen were barred from entering in northern waters. More than a decade after the end of the war, boats from South India continue to cross the Palk Strait frequently, creating a sensitive diplomatic issue between the two South Asian countries.
Harris spoke to EconomyNext about illegal fishing methods used by powerful merchants that put small-scale fishers in trouble.
“They practice light fishing, which is illegal. There aren’t enough fish to spawn properly because these big fishers come and catch them all.
Light force fishing, which is considered an illegal poaching method in Sri Lanka, involves immersing powerful lights underwater to lure fish to the surface and capture them in massive nets. Light force fishing is a major contributor to bycatch or the practice of discarding unsuitable fish or unwanted breeds after they are caught.
The large number of young fish caught in this way depletes the gene pool and leads to a shortage.
However, Captain De Silva, spokesman for the Sri Lankan Navy, said: “Light fishing is not the problem; it is bottom trawling by fishermen.”
Bottom trawling, a method practiced by Indian fishermen, is a fishing method that uses large nets that are dragged across the seabed, catching any nearby fish and tearing up the seabed.
Bottom trawling and overfishing by fishermen in southern India has led to the depletion of marine resources in the Indian Ocean territory, prompting fishermen to travel to Sri Lankan waters to fish.
Although this went on without interruption during the Sri Lankan civil war, major conflicts have occurred since fishermen in northern Sri Lanka began to return to the sea.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has called for legal action. TNA MP MA Sumanthiran told EconomyNext that the crisis can be minimized if Sri Lankan authorities continue to arrest poachers.
According to Trade standardAccording to an Indian daily, 66 Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters were arrested in February and 10 trawlers were seized by the Sri Lankan navy.
On February 07, the Sri Lankan government auctioned more than a hundred boats seized by the navy over the years.
In addition, alleged attacks on Indian fishermen by Sri Lankans have contributed to heightened tensions.
With small boats unable to keep up with the huge trawlers of southern India, many northern fishermen have changed their livelihoods to farming sea cucumbers instead, a delicacy in much of eastern Asia. the East and South East.
China, a major consumer of sea cucumbers, has helped these farmers in their efforts.
Fishermen in northern Sri Lanka shift to China-backed sea cucumber boom
However, demand for this delicacy has led to even more poaching in Indo-Sri Lankan waters, with Sri Lankan and Indian authorities seizing nearly 65 metric tons of sea cucumbers worth over 2, US$8 million between 2015 and 2020. Over 500 people were arrested during this time in connection with the attempted smuggling.
“At the end of the day, we are not protesting for ourselves but for our children. They are the ones who will continue this profession. We have nothing to eat; our means of subsistence have been taken from us; and nobody cares,” Harris said.
“All we ask is that these illegal activities cease so that the fishermen of Sri Lanka can continue their work in peace.” (Colombo/February 26, 2022)