Fishing in troubled waters
Left to their own devices, northern fishermen will
stage a protest demanding government intervention:
With nothing positive achieved over their decades-long poaching issue
while India and Sri Lanka continue to engage over the issue of
fishermen, the disconsolate northern fishermen hope to stage a massive
protest and demonstration next Wednesday, September 13, in Jaffna.
There will be no fishing
when Jaffna fishermen strike.
With repeated talks over the years having failed, agreements reached
not honoured by the Indian side, the Sri Lankan fishermen had pinned
much hope on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who had, since the
formation of the new government, strongly voiced his protest against
This was also an issue on his agenda for discussion with his Indian
counterpart, Narendra Modi. But the two leaders appear to have mutually
agreed to leave the issue to the fishing communities of the two
countries for talks and settlement.
According to representatives of fishermen's associations here, this
was very disappointing.
President, Northern Province Fisher People's Unit (NPFPU), Noor
Mohamed Alam, told the Sunday Observer that assurances given by the
Indian fishermen and agreements signed with them at many previous
discussions to the effect that they will stop poaching and take up
alternative professions, were not honoured. These talks were held under
the patronage of the two governments and the participation of fisheries
authorities, he said.
As such, fishermen's associations of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and
Mannar will stage a protest march and demonstration in Jaffna on
September 23, Wednesday, demanding government intervention to stop
poaching, Alam said. The procession will start from the Pannai junction
in Jaffna and reach the Jaffna Government Secretariat, about 5 km away,
to hand over a representation to the Government Agent and a copy of it
to the Assistant Director of the Fisheries Department, he said. As a
mark of protest, the Jaffna Secretariat and the Department of Fisheries
and Aquatic Resources in Jaffna will be blockaded by the protesters on
that day, Alam said.
He pointed out that President Maithripala Sirisena after his January
8 victory had pledged that fishing vessels entering the Sri Lankan
territorial waters for poaching will be confiscated while Ranil
Wickremesinghe, assuming office as Prime Minister of the United National
Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), had promised the northern fishermen
that poaching will be strongly resisted.
It was a matter of 'life and death' for them, the fishermean said,
because their fertile fishing resources were being plundered and
depleted due to poaching which involved prohibited methods of fishing ,
especially bottom-trawling, Alam said. The poachers who came in hundreds
of trawlers and other fishing vessels did not allow the Northern
fishermen to venture into their territorial fishing grounds and damaged
their fishing gear and boats if they did, he added.
After the New Delhi talks between the Sri Lankan delegation led by
the then Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Dr.
Rajitha Senaratne and the Indian delegation led by Sharad Pawar, it was
announced that the talks were successful and the thorny issue of
poaching would end. But it never happened, Alam said.
The northern fishermen are continuing to be deprived of their
livelihood and they face the threat of their fertile fishing grounds
being completely obliterated of all fishing resources because the type
of gear used and the size of fishing vessels and the methods of fishing
would contribute progressively to the total destruction of marine
resources, he said.
In addition, due to the operation of the Indian trawlers, local
fishermen often suffered damage to their fishing gear such as drift nets
and traps, causing severe financial losses.
Fishermen's representatives of Tamil Nadu had violated an agreement
that they had reached during talks in Chennai on January 27, 2014. They
agreed to keep away from poaching and take recourse to bottom trawling.
But they resumed their destructive bottom trawler fishing and other
banned methods of fishing which they had agreed to discontinue totally,
another source said.
This undertaking was signed by both sides and endorsed by the
Secretary to the Tamil Nadu Fisheries Ministry, before it was sent for
approval of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the source said. Talks were
also held during the previous government between External Affairs
Minister G.L.Pieris and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, on the
same lines, he added.
General Secretary of the NPFPU, N.V. Subramainam told the Sunday
Observer that although both the Indian and the Sri Lankan prime
ministers had decided on further talks between the fishing communities
of the two countries to reach a settlement, the northern fishermen did
not believe in talks because undertaking reached and assurances given at
previous talks have been observed in the breach. This means, the
fishermen want the government to act and to urgently negotiate with
India on the issue without skirting the issue any further.
Agreements and undertakings reached with the Indian fishermen's
representatives are not being honoured because there is Tamil Nadu
politics that promotes such practices, another source noted.
Fleets of fishing vessels in Tamil Nadu are owned by politicians and
big businessmen having a political clout, Subramaniam said. He had
observed it during his delegation's visit to coastal areas from
Nagapatnam to Rameswaram to meet fishermen's representatives. The
fishermen regretted the damage they had done to the fish resources and
the livelihood of the northern fishermen.
They wanted to discontinue it and gave an undertaking but later they
were forced to resume poaching against their will, Subramaniam said.
They were opposed to further talks between the fishing communities
because it would drag on the issue indefinitely, he added.
President of the Union of Mullaitivu District Fishermen's
Associations (UMDFA) Anthony Pillai Mariarasa told the Sunday Observer
that they already held protest demonstration in Mullaitivu, requesting
government action to end poaching. Apart from the problem of Indian
trawlers, they also faced problems due to encroachments, poaching and
prohibited methods of fishing by the Southern fishermen, he said.
They have requested the seven parliamentarians and three Provincial
Council members representing the Vanni to be present on September 26,
Saturday, at a meeting with fishermen's representatives, Mariarasa said.
They would also join the protest march and blockade to be held on
September 23 in Jaffna, he said as a mark of solidarity.