The Shrimp War

In­dian fish­er­men il­le­gally poach­ing in Sri Lankan wa­ters are harm­ing the Lankan fish­ing in­dus­try as well as ma­rine life.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asma Sid­diqui The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes pieces on so­cial is­sues.

On March 4, the Sri Lankan Navy claimed that it had ap­pre­hended 32 In­dian fish­er­men who were il­le­gally fish­ing in Sri Lankan ter­ri­tory. Only a few months ago, In­dia and Sri Lanka had agreed to work to­gether to com­bat poach­ing. Ships be­long­ing to In­dian fish­er­men al­legedly en­croached on Sri Lankan wa­ters in the Palk Bay and caught fish and shrimps that be­longed to Sri Lanka. The quan­tity of fish caught by In­dian ves­sels is so huge that it has threat­ened ma­rine life in Man­nar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna.

To make mat­ters worse, the use of ad­vanced fish­ing meth­ods by In­dian fish­er­men is dev­as­tat­ing ma­rine re­sources and de­stroy­ing the frag­ile ecosys­tem. Equipped with pow­er­ful en­gines, In­dian ships prac­tice bot­tom trawl­ing. It in­volves two boats us­ing drag nets that sweep the ocean bed, which re­sults in killing many ma­rine crea­tures that are found in the ocean depth. This has dam­aged the ecosys­tem and there is also scarcity of fish and shrimps in the wa­ters. Bot­tom trawl­ing is re­garded as an un­fa­vor­able prac­tice all over the world for its dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on ma­rine life. Ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, it has com­pletely ex­hausted fish stocks in In­dian wa­ters. This is why the In­dian fish­er­men are now raid­ing Sri Lankan wa­ters.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Wildlife Fund, the use of bot­tom trawls is now wide­spread. In an ex­per­i­ment off Alaska, 55 per­cent of the cold­wa­ter

co­ral dam­aged by one pass of a trawl had not re­cov­ered a year later. When cov­ered with ma­rine life, these seabed ar­eas pro­vide a rich habi­tat for ju­ve­nile fish, shrimp, cut­tle fish and other species. This prac­tice can be likened to re­mov­ing a for­est, as erad­i­cat­ing the corals de­creases the area avail­able for ma­rine species to live and thrive in.

Fish­ing is a ma­jor source of liveli­hood for the Tamils who live in the north of Sri Lanka. Since the war ended in 2009, they have been given the free­dom to fish in Sri Lankan wa­ters with­out any re­stric­tions and lim­i­ta­tions. Dur­ing the war, they were al­lowed to go only one kilo­me­ter into the sea be­cause of reg­u­lar clashes be­tween the LTTE and the Navy. Ever since the war ended, the govern­ment has given them more fish­ing rights, new boats and im­proved ac­cess to other parts of the is­land.

Ac­cord­ing to the Xin­hua News Agency, the Fish­eries and Aquatic Re­sources Min­is­ter of Sri Lanka Dr. Ra­jitha Se­naratne has said that the coun­try’s fish­ing in­dus­try loses an es­ti­mated U.S. 730 mil­lion worth of fish due to il­le­gal poach­ing of South In­dian fish­er­men. For 2013, the Sri Lankan govern­ment had fixed a tar­get of U.S.$ 500 mil­lion in rev­enue, but it had to keep its ex­pec­ta­tions low due to sig­nif­i­cant losses from poach­ing. In to­tal, In­dian fish­er­men poach at least 65 mil­lion kilo­gramk­ilo­grams of fish ev­ery year. The loss of a ma­ma­jor rev­enue source for Sri Lanka has an­gered lo­cal fish­er­men who throw stones aat In­dian poach­ers aand even hand­cuff aand chain In­dian fis­fish­er­men if they are cacaught. This mar­itime co­con­fronta­tion has also turned into a ma­j­ma­jor diplo­matic row be­tween the two coun­coun­tries.

In­In­dia feels it has done a lot for Sri Lanka, even cced­ing the dis­puted KachcKachcha­tivu Is­land in the 191970s to its small neigh­boneigh­bor. The In­di­ans are un­hun­happy with the ill treat­men­treat­ment of its fish­er­men in cust­cus­tody of Lankan au­thor­i­ties. In­dia has also ac­cused Sri Lanka of tor­tur­ing and even killing In­dian fish­er­men.

The killing and ar­rest of In­dian fish­er­men by Sri Lanka is not a re­cent phe­nom­e­non. Dur­ing the Sri Lankan civil war, when clashes took place be­tween the fighters of the rebel LTTE and the Lankan Navy, hun­dreds of In­dian fish­er­men were caught in the crossfire or were killed by the Sri Lankan Navy on sus­pi­cion of be­ing Tamil Tigers or smug­gling goods for them. Ob­servers say that the Sri Lankan Navy has al­ways dealt with In­dian fish­er­men rather bru­tally, mal­treat­ing them and even killing them de­spite the fact that their crime – vi­o­la­tion of mar­itime bound­aries – was not so grave. While this may be true, the In­dian govern­ment has done lit­tle to ad­dress the prob­lems of In­dian fish­er­men. It has of­ten re­sorted to the de­mands of the pow­er­ful trawler lobby.

Many pro­pos­als have been made from time to time to re­solve the is­sue, in­clud­ing a pro­posal to lease the Kachcha­tivu Is­land in per­pe­tu­ity or on the ba­sis of re­cip­ro­cal li­cens­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, the govern­ment of Tamil Nadu as well as the cen­tral In­dian govern­ment did not pur­sue it vig­or­ously. Now it is time for con­certed ac­tion. For peace­ful bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and well be­ing of fish­er­men, In­dia must take some ac­tions, in­clud­ing sen­si­tiz­ing In­dian fish­er­men about the need for stay­ing within In­dian wa­ters. An­other so­lu­tion can be grant­ing of li­censes to In­dian fish­er­men to fish in Sri Lankan wa­ters in spec­i­fied ar­eas or on spec­i­fied days and vice versa.

Hun­dreds of fish­er­men in both In­dia and Sri Lanka are de­pen­dent on fish­ing as it is their only source of in­come. The is­sue is del­i­cate and must be dealt with ut­most care, keep­ing in mind the im­pact it can have on In­doLanka re­la­tions. The au­thor­i­ties in both coun­tries must act quickly and de­ci­sively. If the is­sue is not re­solved soon, it will con­tinue to af­fect the Indo-Lankan re­la­tion­ship, apart from af­fect­ing the lives and liveli­hoods of fish­er­men in both coun­tries.

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