Sri Lanka. Fishworkers speak out against the destruction of their livelihoods
Kapparathota is a fishing area with a port located 143 kilometers from Colombo in the Matara district of the southern province of Sri Lanka. Like other fishing villages and ports across the country, Kapparathota’s fishing industry is crippled by fuel shortages created by the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.
Fishing is the main income for many inhabitants of coastal towns and villages. But the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, including fishermen using small boats and workers on larger trawlers, have been wiped out because they have no fuel to go to sea.
In Jaffna alone, in the Northern Province, more than 100,000 fishing jobs have been destroyed, plunging many families into destitution. Anglers who used to fish on alternate days find it difficult to fish even once a week. A small boat consumes about 30 liters of kerosene for a day of fishing. Large boats need several thousand liters of diesel to fish at sea for several days.
Owners of small boats queuing for days to buy kerosene are commonplace in fishing grounds across the country.
In addition, there is a shortage of ice needed to preserve fish due to frequent and long power cuts, as well as lack of transport to transport the catch to Colombo and other places of sale, crippling the industry. .
A BBC video in May reported: “Crab processing and export is big business in Jaffna. Ice is essential. The processing plants have been closed since April because there is no electricity or diesel to make the ice cream. In crab processing industries in Kayts [a small island off Jaffna] most workers are women. Their families depend on their income. But now they don’t make any money.
At the same time, workers across the country have been hit hard by the economic crisis and are struggling to get food, including fish. Fish used to be a daily staple for many, but the price of fish has jumped 100-200% in recent months. Last month, official annualized inflation hit 54.6%, but food inflation hit 80.1%. More than a quarter of the population is plunged into abject poverty.
Earlier this month, President Gotabhaya Rajapakse was forced to flee and resign after three months of huge strikes and protests sparked by severe shortages and soaring prices of essentials like food, fuel, gas kitchen supplies and medicines and daily power outages lasting several hours. His successor, Ranil Wickremasinghe, was installed to enforce the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) harsh austerity demands and ruthlessly suppress popular opposition.
The WSWS spoke to fishworkers in Kapparathota just before Rajapakse’s resignation.
Guessed, a truck driver who transports fish was desperately waiting for work at the Kapparathota fishing port.
“I transport fish from Kapparathota to Colombo. Previously, the cost of fuel for transporting fish was around 10,000 rupees [about $US27]. But it has now risen to 25,000-30,000 rupees. Truck owners suffered a drastic loss of income. I work for a truck owner and my job is now in danger. I don’t have enough income. There are no fish to transport due to fuel shortages.
“A lot of boats are not going fishing these days. Those boats that you see anchored there burn a lot of diesel to get out to sea long enough for good fishing. Look at this place now, it’s totally sterile. We used to have lots of fish on a day like today. This is a season when we used to have a lot of fish. It was normally a very busy time for fishing.
“All the jobs in the fishing industry are gone. The lives of fishworkers and their families are in danger. We used to collect the harvest of the peach from here and transport it. We were paid around 3,000 rupees for a day’s driving by the owner of the truck. Now the truck owner himself is in trouble. It doesn’t even cost fuel these days. We were able to pick up a truck full of fish before. Now we get a very small amount.
“Hundreds of trucks were arriving daily at the main fish market in Paliyagoda, Colombo, to collect and deliver the fish to other parts of the country. Many are no longer coming because of the fuel crisis. Many fish vendors struggle to collect the money that some people owe them.
“The ship’s workers are totally devastated. They don’t have a job. Their families have nothing to eat. They stay at home doing nothing. Many are in debt. I don’t know what this government is doing.
Gaminia casual worker totally dependent on the fishing industry, was mending a fishing net with others at the Kapparathota fishing port.
“I don’t have the words to describe the situation we find ourselves in. We don’t have a job. We don’t have the means to live. We get jobs when boats go fishing and their nets tear or get tangled. Since there is no fuel, they don’t go fishing. So we have nothing to do. When the fishing port was working well, we could earn between 1,200 and 2,500 rupees depending on the owner of the net. We also used to eat something. Now most of the time we have no work. I have four children and my wife to feed.
“Yesterday I bought two loaves of bread and a packet of margarine. It cost me 700 rupees. The price of all essential food items has skyrocketed. When we finish this work today, we don’t know when we will have work again. It is not known when the boats will have fuel.
“Some days we borrow around 500 rupees from boat owners because we want to survive. Some don’t even expect to be reimbursed. They just know they will need us in the future. If we borrow a large sum, we will have to pay it back. But these days we can’t borrow from them because they don’t have money available either.
The WSWS reporter explained that they should form independent action committees to fight for their social needs against the government’s plans to implement austerity.
Gamini commented: “It’s a very good idea and I agree that we need to have our own organisations. All we have done so far is vote for those people who destroyed our lives and those of our children.