Let us Proudly Commemorate International Year of Small Scale Fisheries & Aquaculture - 2022

Huge Issue For Lankan Fishermen

By Camelia Nathaniel

The reduction in the numbers of Indian trawlers entering Sri Lankan territorial waters is in no means an indication that the Indian fishermen have finally caved in to pressure from Sri Lanka, but as the fisher folk explained it is just due to an agreement that restricts Indian trawlers from fishing for 45 days from the 1st of May to the 15th of June.  Hence the Sri Lankan fishermen charge that after the 45 days, the Indian trawlers will once again encroach on our waters with renewed vigour.

However the issue of Indian trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters is still continuing and is a huge issue for the Sri Lankan fishing industry.
There are about 175,000 fishermen actively engaged in fishing activities in the country. The Sri Lankan fisheries sector contributes nearly 2.5 per cent to the country’s national Income, as well as being a major contributory factor to the nutritional aspect of all Sri Lankans as well, which comprises  57% of total animal protein (NARA 1998) consumed by the average Sri Lankan. But during recent times the fisheries sector has had to endure numerous challenges, and it has lost almost 80% of its material resources. Over time around 24,000 boats were destroyed and generally hundreds of small businesses and entrepreneurs were badly affected through damage to property, premises, stocks, machinery as well as employees who were displaced, injured or perished due to various disasters and environmental hazards. Apart from the tsunami catastrophe there are other burdensome issues such as technological gap,  improper management in all types of activities, economic recession, political changes, cultural and attitude changes pertaining to the fisheries sector.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Herman Kumara of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement said that the larger Indian fishing trawlers are a problem to the smaller Indian fishermen as well, and said that it was due to their impact that the ban was imposed on the larger fishing trawlers in order to minimise the impact. However he said that this ban of 45 days was not the solution and the damage that the larger Indian trawlers unleash by their destructive fishing methods cannot be reversed so easily.
In spite of many discussions held in both countries, the fishing issues faced by Sri Lanka due to the encroachment of Indian vessels entering its territorial waters still remain a huge problem. In India too it is a huge issue for the Tamil Nadu government as fishing is the main source of livelihood for many of its residents. The over exploitation of fishing resources on the Indian maritime region had led to the depletion of fish and marine resources in Indian waters and as the northern Sri Lankan waters were out of bounds for nearly thirty years due to the war, fishing was prohibited, which has led to the abundance of marine resources in the northern territory. Hence the Indian fishermen prefer to even risk being arrested and enter the Sri Lankan territorial waters in order to take their chances in making the most of the abundance of fish in Sri Lankan territorial waters.
However this situation has not been a welcome sign for the Sri Lankan fishermen who were deprived of their livelihoods and are rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. The Northern fishermen charge that if the Indian fishermen had used the conventional fishing boats, then some sort of compromise could have been reached, as they too feel for their Indian counterparts. However what the local fishermen fear is the use of large trawlers and in addition the method of bottom trawling which is illegal in Sri Lanka, being used by the Indian fishermen.
Fishermen from Sri Lanka and neighbouring India, who both share the Indian Ocean, have a history of fishing illegally from each other’s territorial waters. However Indian trawlers continue encroaching on Sri Lankan territorial waters, causing losses in excess of US$ 59.18 million annually to Sri Lanka.
According to Herman Kumara, the Sri Lanka Navy needs to take action regarding the Indian trawlers that encroach on our waters and destroy our fishing resources. “They should have a proper patrolling system to prevent the Indian trawlers from coming here. But instead of stopping them our fishermen charge that the Sri Lankan navy is turning a blind eye and letting some of the Indian trawlers pass through.
However according to the Naval sources, the task of preventing the Indian trawlers is an arduous task as the  Navy has only four patrolling boats and these boats have to cover an area of around 50 nautical miles. However despite the limited resources, the Sri Lankan navy has made hundreds of arrests over the years, but the problem is far from over despite the arrests and even detaining of these Indian fishermen.
On the other hand the Indians too arrest Sri Lankan fishermen who enter Indian waters illegally, and the local fishermen claim that they are unable to determine their location and thus drift into waters beyond Sri Lankan boundaries.
Taking this factor into consideration the fisheries minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated recently that a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) for multiday fishing boats will be introduced. The minister also said that his ministry hopes to include certain other naval facilities to this Vessel Monitoring System which could be used to decide fishing grounds and to receive continuous whether information to be alert in disasters in the sea.
Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is in the process of installation of this VMS system in 1615 multiday fishing boats free of charge initially. Location of the boat could be monitored through the VMS from its operation center at the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Another issue affecting the Sri Lankan fisheries industry is the ban imposed by the EU for fish exports from Sri Lanka. Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated that action will be taken to relieve the ban imposed by the EU for fish exports from Sri Lanka by fulfilling the requirement of the EU by the end of the year.
The Minister further stated that, EU has banned our fish exports and the main reason for this is our fishermen engaging in fishing activities in international waters without sanction. The minister said that the EU has raised number of requirements to be fulfilled by us. Now he said we have taken action to install the VMS which is the main requirement.
Action has also been taken to make our fishermen aware of the requirements to be followed in high sea fishing and we are expected to take action against persons who engage in illegal fishing activities. He said that these illegal fishing activities are a huge hindrance to the fishermen who have legal rights to fishing.
However according to local fisheries organisations, one of the main reasons for the EU ban is the  issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. They claim that the Chinese trawlers that operate using the Sri Lankan flag is one of the main reasons. However the government claims that while these Chinese trawlers were issued licences to fish, it had no impact on the local fishermen.
But the EU claims that this sort of illegal fishing practices is a huge threat to the international fishing communities as the resources are limited.  Since the 1960s, fish consumption has risen from an annual average of 22 pounds per person to nearly double that today. With the world’s middle class projected to reach 4.9 billion by 2030, global demand for fish, already at record highs, is set to keep rising. Already, 90 percent of fisheries are overfished or fully exploited, setting demand to far outstrip supply. As supply contracts and prices rise, lucrative profits are encouraging a surge in IUU fishing. In this light, some scientists have predicted a complete fisheries collapse as early as 2048.
However in spite of the government’s claims that the Chinese fishing trawlers have been banned from deep sea fishing using the Sri Lankan flag, the local fishermen allege that there still are around nine of these Chinese trawlers operating. But according to the authorities, these Chinese vessels have been issues licences to fish by the Sri Lankan fisheries authorities and their licences are valid until the end of the year. Hence the Sri Lankan fishermen are optimistic that the new government will take this matter seriously and comply with the EU regulations in order to lift the ban on Sri Lankan fish imports, reviving the fishing industry.
Another issue that is plaguing the fishing industry is the use of illegal fishing methods. From time to time although Sri Lankan authorities have banned all illegal fishing methods, for numerous reasons these restrictions are lifted by various authorities. According to Herman Kumara the use of destructive fishing gear such as Purse Seine nets in the night guided by powerful lights, which is known as ‘light course.’ and the use of dynamite to capture fish, is destroying our marine resources.  However he said that while these destructive fishing methods were banned by the previous government, when Minister Joseph Michael took over the ministry, he had lifted the ban on several pleas made by the fishing folk. However after his departure from the post the new minister reintroduced the ban and has now called on NARA to conduct a study on the impact of destructive fishing practices and compile a report.
However although the report was to be handed over to the fisheries minister this week, Dr. Rekha Maldeniya research marine biologist of NARA told The Sunday Leader that they need more time to study the issue and issue a comprehensive report. “Moreover since fishing is seasonal, we have to wait for the next fishing season to study these fishing methods in a detailed manner before issuing our report. Hence we have asked the minister for more time in order to conduct our research on the use of destructive fishing methods.
The Fisheries Act of 1996, have prohibited five fishing methods in Sri Lankan waters. Use of push net for fishing operations, harpooning for marine mammals such as whales, dugong and dolphins, moxi nets fishing operation, using gillnet or trammel net on coral reefs or rocks and the use of monofilament for fishing are prohibited in the country. Push nets operate in lagoon waters damaging inhabitants, such as juveniles of bottom living fin fishes and shell fishes.
Although the use of gillnet and trammel net is approved for deep sea fishing, use of these nets on shallow waters, coral reefs and rocks have been prohibited as they destroy the fishing habitats. According to Herman Kumara using such nets in coastal and lagoon fishery in Sri Lanka damage bottom juveniles and habitats such as coral reefs. The use of Nylon nets has been banned under the Fisheries Act since 2006. The Fisheries Act not only defined prohibited fishing modes, it also very clearly states that ‘No person shall use or attempt to use any poisonous explosives like dynamite or  other noxious or harmful material or substance in Sri Lankan waters for the purpose of poisoning, killing, stunning, disabling any fish or other aquatic resources.

The Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Department of the Fisheries Ministry as the regulatory and implementing agency of the Fisheries Act has empowered to the Fisheries Inspectors functioning under Fisheries Directors in 14 Districts to take action against illegal fishing methods.