Sri Lanka on Thursday banned the destructive fishing practice of bottom-trawling in their waters, making violators liable for a fine of LKR 50,000 and face two years imprisonment. The development could directly impact a section of fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who engage in bottom-trawling and have often been found trespassing into Sri Lanka’s territorial waters.
Following a debate in Sri Lankan Parliament, an Amendment to the country’s Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act was passed unanimously, in effect declaring the fishing method an offence.
The Tamil National Alliance’s Jaffna district parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said the development was a “huge victory” for the Lankan fishing community that had been battling the issue for about a decade. In April 2015, the legislator moved a private member’s bill seeking a ban on bottom-trawling, sparking resistance from a small section of northern Sri Lankan fisher folk who had also begun using trawlers to maximise profits.
“Although the Amendment is limited in its scope to fishing and marine resources, the fact that the government took it up and heard the cry of the northern fishermen is an indication of its willingness to listen to such issues,” he told The Hindu.
Ever since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, fishermen of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority north have been trying to return to the sea. For decades, they had been denied access to it by the armed forces and the LTTE.
However, just as they began rebuilding their lives with very limited resources and huge loans, they confronted the challenge of bottom-trawlers, originating from Tamil Nadu and trespassing into their waters.
After several rounds of failed negotiations between fishermen of both countries, the governments on their part made a shift — the Indian side began advocating alternatives such as deep sea fishing, while Sri Lanka adopted stringent measures, including retaining the seized trawlers for longer times.
While the Sri Lankan Navy has arrested over 2,500 Indian fishermen since 2010 for trespassing, the number began falling in 2016 and 2017.
This year, 190 Indian fishermen were arrested of whom 67 remain in Sri Lankan prisons, a Navy source said. About 150 Indian trawlers confiscated remain in Sri Lankan custody.
The Amendment comes as a huge relief to the northern fishing community, who are among the key drivers of the war-battered economy.
“A complete ban on bottom-trawling is an important and very positive step. It will not only deter Indian fishermen, but also prevent local trawlers from engaging in the practice,” N. V. Subramanian, secretary of the Association for Northern Province Fisher People’s Unity, said.
Nearly 25 fisher leaders were in Parliament on Thursday, seated in the gallery, as they watched a crucial Amendment being passed that offers the promise of a better future to them.