Fishermen in Galle and Dodanduwa are up in arms against fish traders in the area for selling fish that are brought from Kalmunai and Tricomanlee.
Fishermen in Ratgama Wella near the Galle Fort and Dodanduwa Wella claim that they have been deprived of earning a good price for their daily catch, as the fish traders in the area sell fish that are being transported from Kalmunai and Trincomalee daily at a cheaper rate.
“This became a major issue for the fishermen in Galle and Dodanduwa from time to time since the war came to an end in 2009. The situation has got worse over the past few months as bumper harvests were brought daily from north and east and were sold in Galle and Dodanduwa. As a result we could not sell our daily catch even to cover the fuel cost, but only for a pittance,” said Secretary, Rural Fisheries Organization in Ratgama Wella, A. Lambert.
According to him, fishermen in Ratgama Wella were unable to sell a kilo of seer fish for Rs.250 for the past couple of weeks due to the bumper stock brought from north and east that were sold for less than Rs. 200 per kilo.
“Why do these dealers want to sell four or five days old catch, that was brought from north and east, when they can get the fish – fresh from the sea every morning? Since they cannot buy our harvest for a pittance, they got down fish from the north and east for a lesser price and made a good profit. As the buyers too are tempted to buy whatever they can for a cheaper price without knowing that they are buying iced fish, dealers make money in no time. As a result, our sales went down rapidly and we could not sell a kilo of big fish even for Rs. 250 although the real price was three times more,” said Lambert.
Meanwhile, the Treasurer of this Fisheries Organization G. P. S. Mahendra accused the Fisheries Ministry and the Fisheries Department in particular for their failure to look into the grievances of the fishermen that go out to sea in catamarans.
According to Mahendra, although the fisheries organizations wanted Mayor of Galle Methsiri de Silva, the police and the Fisheries Department to intervene to stop ‘importing’ fish from north and east in order to protect the fishermen in Galle, all their requests have fallen on deaf ears.
“We were very patient and were waiting to see as to what action the relevant officials were taking to protect us from a disaster. Since nothing happened and the situation turned worse, we decided to take the law unto our hands. That was why we stoned the lorries that brought fish from north and east. It was only then the police interfered and wanted the fish dealers and fishmongers who were in business with the ‘imported’ fish to move away from the shore where we bring our daily catch,” said Mahendra.
Mahendra further queried as to why the police failed earlier to act on their complaints but was quick enough to protect the lorries that came from north and their dealers in Galle.
“We have a feeling that politicians are behind this move. That was why the police did not take any action against these big time businessmen and their dealers in Galle. This was evident as to how the police acted when we threw stones at the lorries,” he added.
As a result, selling ‘imported’ fish has now come to a standstill from last week within the Rathgama Wella and Dodanduwa Wella but the fishermen were still agitating because the ‘imported’ fish is still being sold in Galle and Dodanduwa.
Meanwhile, he further alleged as to how certain fishermen in the area engage in illegal fishing with the political clout, as police and navy have never taken any action against them although several complaints have been lodged against them.
“Illegal fishing is rampant off Galle seas and the police and navy have allowed them to carry out these fishing methods openly. Although dragnet (fishing nets with tiny holes) fishing has been banned through a gazette notification no action has been taken against those using these illegal methods. If the police, navy or even the Fisheries department officials come to the beach where these boats are anchored, they can see clearly as to how these dragnets are kept in the boats openly. It was banned as tiny fish are caught to the dragnets as the net holes are too small for them to pass through. Once the tiny fishes are caught, they are once again thrown to the waters. This reduces the future fish harvest. In addition dynamite fishing and light course fishing are being carried out in large scale although no action has been taken against the lawbreakers so far. Neither the Galle nor Dodanduwa police have taken any action against these fishermen but quick action is being taken against the person who furnish the information to the police or navy,” alleged Mahendra.
Meanwhile K. V. Udaya, who accused the politicians who patronize illegal fishing said that it was because of political involvement that Fisheries Department buys fish only from the fishermen who fish using illegal methods.
“Has the Fisheries Department ever bought fish from us? No. That never happens as they buy only from fishermen who use illegal fishing methods. The dynamites are put just a few meters away from the beach. It is the same with light course fishing. The dragnets are kept on the boats, which is visible. Although fuel subsidy should not be given to those who engage in illegal fishing, they are given the fuel subsidy,” alleged Udaya.
He further queried as to why the canned fish factory in Galle failed to buy fish from local fishermen rather than importing low quality fish from China.
“For the canned fish factory 10,000 tons of fish have been imported from China. Instead of salmon fish, they have imported ‘lenna paraw’ from China when the department could have bought the same variety from local fishermen for a cheaper price. That would have saved foreign exchange in millions of rupees. Even the fishermen too would have benefited. A tin of this canned fish is sold for Rs.180 and they claim that they have only Rs.20 profit. Had they bought this fish from us they would have at least had a Rs. 70 profit from one tin of fish,” he alleged.
He further alleged as to how the fishermen in Galle who lost all their belongings including the fishing gear to tsunami were overlooked by Minister Piyasena Gamage when distributing boats for those who lost livelihood.
“It was we who lost our livelihood and the boats including the fishing gear but people who live far away from the sea in Mapalagama, Neluwa and Baddegama were the ultimate beneficiaries. Sometimes Minister Gamage would have not known as to whether the real fishermen were not given any help as his Coordinating Secretary Thiranagama handled the entire project. That was why the boats were not distributed in Galle but closer to Mapalagama. One fish dealer in the Galle fish market too received two boats and all those who benefited sold the boats and made money,” he said.
Meanwhile fishermen at the Dodanduwa Wella too said as to how the Dodanduwa police and navy have given their ‘blessings’ for illegal fishing.
“How many times have we informed the police and navy when these things are happening off Dodanduwa Sea but to no avail? When the fish dealers started selling fish that were brought from Kalmunai and Trincomalee we agitated but the police were silent. Then we had to complaint this to Provincial Councilor Dhammika Dharshana who helped us to settle the matter for a while,” said Cyril.
Chamara was yet another boat owner who has not sent his boat to sea for the past few weeks as the fish prices were low because of the fish stocks brought from the north and east.
“There are more than 300 fishermen in Dodanduwa and more than 1,000 who are indirectly involved in this business. Because we could not sell our catch even to meet the fuel cost all fishermen stopped going out to sea for nearly two weeks. This has affected the fishing community very badly as there were no other source of income to these families,” said Chamara.
Accusing the government for increasing the prices of kerosene – the poor man’s fuel – Ravindra Kumara, Secretary, Dodanduwa Fisheries Committee said that the monthly kerosene subsidy of Rs.9,375 – a subsidy of Rs.25 for a litre of kerosene – is no sufficient at all.
“For one day we have to pump around 30 liters to set out to sea. We have to mix 1 ½ liters of 2T oil which cost Rs.545 per day in addition to the kerosene price. Once this is calculated we have to pay Rs.150 per litre of fuel. It is cheaper for us to use a diesel or petrol engine rather than kerosene engine, which causes engine wastages as well. From last year the prices of kerosene and 2T oil prices have gone up three-fold which is unbearable for the fishermen,” said Kumara.
He further said, “How could we survive after spending over Rs.7, 000 for fuel and then cannot get a better price for the catch. Although we bring around 100 – 150kg of big fish, if one kilo cannot be sold more than Rs. 300 then what is the profit we get after leaving the fuel charges. In addition we have to pay the fishermen who join us to go fishing.
Now that we were able to chase the fish dealers from the Dodanduwa fish harbor area, we now get a better price for our daily catch than two weeks ago.
“If they once again come here in the next few weeks, then we as fishermen will have to teach them a lesson not to step into Dodanduwa in future. If the police is silent and do not take any action against these ‘invaders’ we have to take the law unto our hands to protect our own fisher folk,” said Kumara.