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Sunday, 15 February 2015

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Jaffna GA feigns ignorance:

Gurunagar fisherfolk face untold hardships

When the Jaffna District Government Agent (GA) S. Arumainayaham was asked about the problems faced by the Gurunagar fishermen, he feigned ignorance and said he was not informed about the problems they faced so far although the shortcomings were blatantly obvious.

Fishing in the lagoon
Some vessels docked in the harbour
Fish harvest to be unloaded
A view of the Gurunagar fish market
Gurunagar Fisheries Society
President J. Sahayaraja
A. Wellington

Arumainayaham told us to inform the fishermen to meet him and to bring their problems to his attention and then necessary steps could be taken to solve their problems or can be forwarded to the relevant authorities for further action.

Any how he was quick to claim that the fish harvest in the region had increased several fold after the end of terrorism. The total fish production in the district in 2010 was 2,000 metric tons and increased to 10,000 metric tons in the latter years. Now fish production has increased to 30,000 metric tons now. Fishermen earn a sufficient income from fishing and their economic standards have improved, the GA said.Gurunagar, the main fishery harbour in Jaffna remains undeveloped. Eventhough requests were made by the fishermen to renovate the dilapidated harbour. No steps were taken and fishermen received step motherly treatment, a cross section of fishermen we met at the Gurunagar Fishery harbour told the Sunday Observer.

"Even after the dawn of peace in the country, the fishermen in the region go to sea amidst immense difficulties from the Gurunagar Fishery harbour because of lack of facilities in the harbour.

Over 2,000 families depend on this harbour and contribute to the national economy as before the emergence of terrorism. We are confident that the new Government will take necessary steps to renovate the harbour", Gurunagar Fisheries Society President J. Sahayaraja said.

"Lack of facilities is the main obstacle which hampers the development of the fishery industry in the region. We were promised that fishing gear will be given but so far we have not received anything. There is a shortage for fishing nets, Each boat needs 15 pieces of 7 inch nylon net. The allocation has been passed by the Fisheries Ministry but we did not receive them yet", he said.

"the Gurunagar Fishery harbour development program was to be initiated in December last year. But the change of Government caused some delays in implementing the proposed program. but we are confident that the new Government will look into it. I am confident that the Gurunagar fishermen's problems would have been included in the 100 day program", he said.

"A cooling centre, ice plant and fuel facility are the are the main shortcomings in the harbour, he said. Facilities in the harbour were not enough to anchor a large number of fishing vessels. Over 1,000 fisher families depend on the Gurunagar harbour. Their problems should be addressed", Sahayaraja said.

"Indian fishermen poach in our waters. Even with the Sri Lankan Navy patrol along the Sri Lankan coast, huge Indian trawlers enter our waters and the amass tons of fish which should be caught the catch by Sri Lankan fishermen", he said.

"During the war, we could fish only in a limited area but now the barriers have been removed. Shortage of equipment is also a problem the Northern fishermen face today", he said.

"We send fish to Colombo, from Point Pedro, Mayilitty, Valvettithurai, Kayts and other parts of the country. If there are facilities, the harvest can be increased by several fold", he said.

S. Rajeswaran said that he is engaged in fishing for the past 30 years. Since 1985 a boat belonging to the Gurunagar fishermen is with the Indian coast guard.

"On certain days, the harvest is high and on others days it is low. Depending on the climate, fish harvest differs. We return on the next day morning. We normally fish in the Kachchativu area which is a six- hour distance from the Gurunagar fishery harbour", he said.

"Gurunagar fishermen face immense difficulties. We are fishermen and we don't know any other job other than fishing. We engage in fishing only for a particular period and the rest of the time we are at home. It is important that Government should solve our problems", he said.

"Since 1964 I have been fishing. No changes or improvement have taken place in the industry so far. I use traditional fishing methods. If I was given modern fishing gear, I can improve the industry while contributing to the national economy", he said.

"We have not received modern technology so far. There is no dry dock to repair boats. That is a also an important facility which should be provided by the Government. The relevant authorities should take necessary steps to develop the Gurunagar fishery harbour. The harbour must be equipped with modern technology", he said. Youth from Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Kattankudi and other areas go to sea with our fishermen", he said.

Stefan said that from January to April, the fish harvest will be high and and the fishermen earn sufficient income. Paraw, Katta and Arukkala fish varieties will be available during this period.

He said that Indian fishermen encroaching our sea area was the main problem and immediate solutions must be found to protect local fishermen.

As the indians operate with huge trawlers our fishermen are unable to compete with them.

Stefan said that the uncommon fish varieties were gradually dwindling due to Indian fishermen poaching in our waters.

He said that despite the warnings from the authorities Indian fishermen still fish in Sri Lankan territory and our fishermen return with a low harvest or with empty vessels as a result.

"The facilities in the Gurunagar fishery harbour is not sufficient to accommodate all vessels. The harbour must be developed", he said.

"The Gurunagar fish market functions in a small building and it is not sufficient to facilitate all the vendors. Business was done amidst immense difficulties. The authorities should develop the Gurunagar fish market", he said. T. Atputharasa said that he harvests sea cucumber and earns Rs. 20,000, to Rs. 30,000 a month. On certain days the harvest is low.

But the income was enough to manage their livelihoods.

Atputharasa said that depending on the size of the sea cucumber, the price is decided. A single sea cucumber can be sold from Rs. 100 to 150. Sea cucumbers are found in Palai, Iranaitivu and other areas in the Jaffna peninsula.

Aloysius Christy said that Sri Lankan fishermen can't cross the border. because strict surveillance methods were maintained but Indian fishermen fish were illegally fishing in our waters. he was vehement when he said, "Indian fishermen must be stopped and the authorities should implement strict regulations in this regard".

"In addition to sea cucumber I catch cuttle fish. Because this is the off season for cuttle fish we go deep sea fishing", he said.

He said that the Gurunagar fishermen have no any separate place to repair nets, boats. Refrigerator facility is most important to the Gurunagar fishermen. We normally repair the boats in the shallow water with immense difficulties.

Christy said that earlier the Gurunagar fishermen had a place to repair nets and other fishing gear. Now the spot was used by the Navy and the fishermen were left high and dry.

A. Welington said as the former government stopped the use of trawlers and due to the ban, fishermen in the region underwent immense difficulties.

Because the fishermen in the area had no any alternative source of income. Most of the youth have left the country as migrant workers. Most them are still abroad because they have no proper source of income. Considering the well-being of fishermen concessions and soft loan programs should be introduced. Fisheries societies function with immense difficulties.

"A large number of youth in the region were engaged in fishing. Over 70 percent of fishermen are youth and they are guided by senior fishermen", he said.

"Fishing is the main livelihood of people who live in close proximity to the Gurunagar fishery harbour. Five fishermen go to sea in each boat and if there are a 100 boats, five hundred youth will be employed. Over thousand labourers benefit from the Gurunagar fishery harbour. Over 3,000 families depend on it", he said.

"The Government should focus attention to further develop the fishery industry in the North. Because the fishery industry can be a money spinner in the future and contribute to the national economy. Developing this sector has become a timely need, he said.

"Now the fishermen repair fishing nets in the open because of the lack of facilities. The Fisheries Ministry should solve the problems of these fishermen because a large number of fisher families depend on the Gurunagar fishery harbour. Fishing in the region must be made permanent. The ban which has been imposed on fishing must be relaxed. "If a boat breaks down a large amount of money is needed to overhaul it . it is at this time that the fishermen need the assistance of the government as costs were prohibitive", he said.

The Government should extend a helping hand to market the fish, he said.

"The Government has reduced the price of fuel. Due to this the income of fishermen has increased. A fisherman saves at least Rs. 1,000 a day after the reduction of fuel prices. Livelihoods should be improved with infrastructure development", he said

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