India should ban sea bottom-trawling in Palk Strait
SL should confiscate poaching boats:
The issue of poaching by Indian trawlers in Sri Lankan waters has
over the years become increasingly contentious, seriously threatening
the livelihood of Sri Lanka's fishing community. Fishers being among the
poorest communities in both Sri Lanka and India, it is an issue of
national concern to both countries.
M. A. Sumanthiran, MP
Indian fishermen practise bottom trawling, which entails scraping the
This not only adversely impacts our marine ecosystem, but also has a
direct implication on the lives of fisherfolk in Sri Lanka's Northern
Province. Sri Lankan fishermen are often forced to stay ashore for fear
that these trawlers will damage their nets, their primary asset for
There have even been incidents of fishermen suffering physical
injuries while attempting to save their nets from being damaged by
At least 200,000 people in the Northern Province are dependent on the
fisheries sector. Most of them are still struggling to rebuild their
lives after a brutal civil war.
Many of them were displaced, lost members of their family, and lost
their homes during the bitter conflict.
It is only now they have a chance to get back to the sea. But, their
small boats cannot take on the massive, mechanized Indian trawlers.
Politics of poaching
Both, Sri Lanka and India have for the past few years attempted to
address the issue of poaching. To date however, there has been very
little progress on this.
The primary reason is politics. When Indian fishermen trespass into
Lankan waters, there is serious concern about the significant impact it
has on the livelihood of an already struggling community.
On the other hand, when trespassing Tamil Nadu fishermen are
arrested, there is outcry in India.
While we appreciate the concerns of several thousand fishermen in
India struggling to make ends meet, Sri Lanka has the sovereign right to
take action against any act of trespass into territory that comes under
The problem with this approach, however, is that it is at best a
The vessels are only detained temporarily. And despite the risk of
arrest, fishermen are willing to take the risk of returning in these
vessels, particularly because they are desperate for a reasonable catch
which they do not find in Indian waters anymore, consequent to
relentless bottom trawling. Also, fishermen who are apprehended are in
several cases released following political negotiations.
A more effective step would be to confiscate the vessels in which
fishermen trespass into Sri Lankan waters. Authorities are in fact
empowered to do so, and lately they have resorted to this action. This
provision must be regularly enforced.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been repeatedly requested to
take up the issue by fishing societies in the North.
Opposition leader and TNA head, R. Sampanthan raised the issue during
an adjournment debate recently proposed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
(JVP) parliamentarian Vijitha Herath. He suggested that the Indian Navy
or Coast Guard with the Sri Lankan Navy jointly patrol the international
boundary to prevent trespassing.
I myself have submitted a Private Member's Bill to make bottom
trawling an offence in law rather than by mere regulation (as is the
case now). According to the current law in terms of the Fisheries and
Aquatic Resources Act 2 of 1996, bottom trawling can be carried out by
both, Sri Lankan nationals as well as non-nationals who obtain a licence
from the Department of Fisheries.
I am now presenting this Bill for the second time, as Parliament was
dissolved after I first presented it on April 21, 2015. Both India and
Sri Lanka should fully support this Bill in the light of the serious
environmental damage caused by bottom trawling.
As far as poaching is concerned, banning the practice of bottom
trawling will greatly reduce the incentive to trespass into Lankan
Both, Sri Lanka and India must take effective steps for the
conversion of fishing with trawlers to deep sea fishing.
In order for a ban on bottom trawling to succeed, alternatives must
be available to protect the livelihoods of fishermen presently engaged
in bottom trawling. Additionally, interim steps must be taken to
minimize the serious damage being caused by trawling.
The 45-day annual ban on trawling observed in Tamil Nadu to replenish
fish stock came to an end recently, and Indian fishermen are again being
arrested on charges of poaching and engaging in illegal fishing
The Indian government and Tamil Nadu must consider a ban period while
we attempt to resolve the issue. We cannot hope to have a meaningful
dialogue or resolve the issue while Indian fishermen continue
relentlessly trawling in Sri Lankan waters. Such a ban will act as a
confidence building measure and encourage a speedy resolution of the
It is time the governments of both India and Sri Lanka moved beyond
political rhetoric and tough talk and took effective and sustainable
steps to resolve the issue.
(Originally published in The Hindu newspaper,