Maritime rally demanding enforcement of laws against bottom trawling
The protest follows an increase in reported trespassing by Indian trawlers in recent weeks in Sri Lankan territorial waters.
Dozens of fishermen from the north left on Sunday on boats from the coast of the eastern district of Mullaitivu to Point Pedro in Jaffna in the north, demanding that Sri Lankan authorities implement laws banning the destructive bottom trawl method of fishing. .
The protest follows an increase in reported trespassing by Indian trawlers in recent weeks in Sri Lankan territorial waters. On October 13, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 23 Indian fishermen and seized two fishing boats for trespassing, resuming action months after limiting arrests of foreign fishermen, fearing COVID-19.
The fishermen of northern Sri Lanka have resisted Indian trawlers in their seas for over a decade. Bilateral talks and government mechanisms have yet to find a solution. India is unable to prevent its fishermen from crossing the International Maritime Border (IMBL) and has not yet succeeded in diverting them to deep-sea fishing practices elsewhere.
Tensions have persisted, sometimes at human cost such as in January this year when four fishermen from Tamil Nadu were found dead following an attack allegedly carried out by the Sri Lankan navy.
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Sunday’s protest was led by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs MA Sumanthiran, S. Shritharan and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam, and former MP Shanthi Sriskantharajah, and aimed to pressure the Minister of Fisheries and MP for Jaffna Douglas Devananda to use Sri Lankan laws to take action against those who engage in illegal fishing.
“We joined this protest to demand that the livelihoods of our fishermen be protected and to demand that the Minister of Fisheries take appropriate legal action against fishermen using bottom trawling,” Sumanthiran said. to the media in Jaffna.
Sri Lanka banned bottom trawling in 2017 and imposed heavy fines in 2018 to deter illegal fishing, which is a recurring concern in the narrow Palk Strait that connects northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The 2017 law banning trawlers was based on a private member’s bill introduced by Mr Sumanthiran in 2015.
The new law and the harsh sentence have resulted in a reduction in the number of Indian fishing vessels spotted briefly in Sri Lankan waters. It brought some relief to thousands of fishermen in northern Sri Lanka whose post-war livelihoods were severely affected by Indian trawlers ravaging their coast.
But Indian trawlers are back in large numbers, according to fishermen from the north, some of whom recently wrote to the Indian consulate in Jaffna, demanding redress.
While Indian fishermen in Tamil Nadu are repeatedly taken for trespassing, TNA has avoided a head-on challenge to Tamil Nadu on the issue, due to the state’s solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils during the war years. civil and after. TNA rarely defies India, viewing the country as an ally and arbiter in its long-standing call for a political solution from the Sri Lankan government.
The largest group of Tamil lawmakers – with 10 seats out of 225 members of parliament – from the north and east, the TNA is also criticized for “ignoring” the economic concerns of its constituents.
“As an Alliance, they do not show a common understanding or clarity about our problem and how we need to respond to it collectively and responsibly. Tamil politicians should not use our problem to settle scores among themselves. This will only dilute our struggle, ”said Annalingam Annarasa of the Federation of Unions of Fishermen’s Cooperative Societies in Jaffna District.
“We neither support nor oppose today’s protest,” he said. For the northern fishing community, it is difficult to refuse the scarce support offered to them. It is also difficult to oppose the politically influential Minister of Fisheries, a local MP, whose intervention they will need to resolve their crisis, observed the fishermen.