By Dinitha Rathnayake and Pamodi Waravita
Northern fishermen took approximately 1,000 boats out to sea to participate in a large-scale protest yesterday (17) extending from the seas of Mullaitivu to Point Pedro in the Northern Province, against what they termed the inaction of Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda over Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan seas.
Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) Shanakiyan Rasamanickam alleged that Devananda has not taken any action or steps to prevent the encroaching of Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen.
“We protested from Mullaitivu to Point Pedro in boats against the inaction of Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda. Why is he being silent on this matter? This is an issue that directly affects all fishermen here,” Rasamanickam told The Morning yesterday.
Tamil National Alliance spokesperson and ITAK Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran PC, who was also at the forefront of the protest yesterday, has reportedly accused Devananda last week of provoking violence between fishermen from India and Sri Lanka.
The northern fishermen are especially concerned over a technique known as “bottom trawling” claimed to be used by Indian fishermen and widely regarded as an ecologically destructive method of fishing, since trawlers drag heavy nets along the ocean floor, thus depleting aquatic resources. Black flags were seen hoisted from the boats yesterday, as they sailed in protest of these actions.
The convenor of the All Island Fisheries Association Rathna Gamage said that around 1,500 bottom trawling boats from India reach the Sri Lankan Northern seas weekly, and that 8,000 come each month.
“The current Government was unable to reach an agreement with the Indian authorities even after many discussions. This is not a new issue. This has been going on for months without any solution. Sri Lankan authorities failed to give a proper solution for this matter,” he told us.
According to Gamage, the Sri Lanka Navy is not taking the necessary precautions to catch these illegal trawlers.
“Only 0.3% of the trawlers were arrested by the Navy, not more than that. They also pretend to be taking action to convince people that they are patrolling the waters,” he said.
However, speaking to The Morning, Navy Media Spokesperson Capt. Indika De Silva said the necessary steps are being taken to arrest these illegal boats although patrols were not carried out during the pandemic situation.
“We were able to arrest seven boats during this year up to now. The Navy was not actively participating in patrols due to the pandemic,” he said.
However, Devananda, speaking to The Morning, said that these protests are only a political movement done by the Tamil National Alliance and that genuine fishermen had not participated in this protest.
“The Navy have arrested two boats with 23 people recently who attempted bottom trawling, and the Indian authorities already informed Indian fishermen not to reach the Sri Lankan coastal area,” he said.
According to Devananda, Sri Lanka has already reached a diplomatic solution for this issue.
In March 2021, Devananda told The Morning that the Ministry of Fisheries had, in its discussions with the government of India, proposed the provision of permits to Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters at a fee, as a solution to the issue. However, Co-Cabinet spokesperson Udaya Gammanpila later denied this, saying that no such decision has been made.
The Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act was amended in 2017 to make bottom trawling an offence, for a two-year prison term and a fine of Rs. 50,000.