India-Sri Lanka Fisheries Issues


    In Context

    • Arrests and attacks increased on Indian fishermen as they continued entering Lankan waters because of depletion of marine resources on the Indian side.

    Major issues 

    • The unpopular truth in the entire conflict is accusations about Tamil fishermen entering Sri Lankan waters, ownership of Katchatheevu Island, where Tamil fishermen had traditional fishing rights for centuries, also remains an unresolved issue.
      • In 1974, the island was ceded to Sri Lanka after an agreement was signed by Indira Gandhi between the two countries without consulting the Tamil Nadu government.
      • The agreement allowed Indian fishermen “access to Katchatheevu for rest, for drying of nests and for the annual St Anthony’s festival” but it did not ensure the traditional fishing rights.
    • Proliferation of trawlers in Indian coast: Trawlers are mechanised boats with highly exploitative fishing nets unlike most of the poor fishermen on the Sri Lankan coast who use traditional fishing methods.
      • The use of mechanised bottom trawlers has become a bone of contention between the fishermen of the two countries.
      • This method of fishing, which was once promoted by the authorities in India, is now seen as being extremely adverse to the marine ecology, and has been acknowledged so by India.
      • The actions of the Tamil Nadu fishermen adversely affect their counterparts in the Northern Province who are also struggling to come to terms with life after the civil war. 
        • The ongoing economic crisis in the island nation has only worsened their plight.
    •  Demarcation of the IMBL :  the fishermen of Tamil Nadu experience a genuine problem — the lack of fishing areas consequent to the demarcation of the  International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in June 1974. 
      • Just as sections of fishermen from the Palk Bay bordering districts of Tamil Nadu continue to transgress the IMBL, cases of many of them getting arrested and their boats being impounded by the Sri Lankan authorities continue. 

    Causes of Conflict

    • In the past fishermen from Rameshwaram and nearby coasts continued to sail towards Talaimannar and Katchatheevu coasts, a region famous for rich maritime resources in Sri Lanka.
    • There were many favourable reasons too for Indian fishermen as their access to Sri Lankan waters was easier at the time of Sri Lankan civil war.
    • Sri Lanka remained preoccupied with its war against the LTTE. When its Northern Province and maritime boundaries nearby were never tightly guarded as a result, Indian trawlers continued to routinely enter Lankan waters for fishing.

    Latest Developments

    • Recently ,The India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held its much-awaited deliberations (in virtual format) after a gap of 15 months. 
    • India had signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lanka for the development of fisheries harbours. 
      • This can be modified to include a scheme for deep sea fishing to the fishermen of the North.
    •  JWG has agreed to have joint research on fisheries, which should be commissioned at the earliest. 
    • Such a study should cover the extent of the adverse impact of bottom trawling in the Palk Bay region.
    • The Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka had taken up the issue of early release of the fishermen and boats with the Government of Sri Lanka.

    Options available to resolve the festering India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue

    • Common threads
      • The people of the two countries in general and fisherfolk in particular have common threads of language, culture and religion, all of which can be used purposefully to resolve any dispute.
    • Utilisation of economic crisis
      • The present situation, which is otherwise very stressful for Sri Lanka in view of the economic crisis, can be utilised to bring the fishermen of the two countries to the negotiating table. 
        • This is because the Indian government’s two-month ban on fishing on the east coast of the country began on April 15. 
    • Deliberations
      • It is up to Sri Lanka to ensure that the talks take place as the Indian side is keen on resuming fisherfolk-level deliberations. 
    •  Compensation: 
      • Whenever there is a genuine complaint about Tamil Nadu fishermen having damaged the properties of the Northern Province’s fishermen, the Indian government can compensate this through the proper channels of Sri Lanka.
    • Deep sea fishing: 
      • Indian fishermen can present a road map for their transition to deep sea fishing or alternative methods of fishing.
      • India will have to modify its scheme on deep sea fishing to accommodate the concerns of its fishermen, especially those from Ramanathapuram district, so that they take to deep sea fishing without any reservation. 
      • There is a compelling need for the Central and State governments to implement in Tamil Nadu the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in a proactive manner. 
        • The scheme covers alternative livelihood measures too including seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching.
    • Multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism
      • The two countries should explore the possibility of establishing a permanent multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism to regulate fishing activity in the region. 
    • At the same time, Sri Lanka should take a lenient view of the situation and refrain from adopting a rigid and narrow legal view of matters concerning the release of 16 fishermen or impounded fishing boats (around 90 in number).

    Source: TH