NORTH­ERN FISHERMEN SHOULDN’T BE NE­GLECTED

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - BUSINESS NEWS -

Des­per­ate cries of Jaffna’s fishermen de­mand­ing so­lu­tions to is­sues con­nected to their in­dus­try con­tinue to echo de­spite the Gov­ern­ment re­duc­ing the price of kerosene to Rs 70 per le­tre.

The price re­duc­tion in kerosene came as the re­sult of lengthy protests by these fishermen who have time and again com­plained that there is in­tru­sion into their pro­fes­sion by out­siders, es­pe­cially In­dian fishermen.

Given that this is a coun­try where peo­ple have to stage protests to ob­tain even some of their ba­sic rights, this small win by the fish­er­folk must be lauded. It was heart­en­ing to see that the Jaffna fisher com­mu­nity-rep­re­sented by the Jaffna Dis­trict Fish­eries Or­ga­ni­za­tion­also re­ceived the sup­port of Jaffna Pri­vate Bus Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, Stu­dents of Jaffna Uni­ver­sity, Tr­ishaw op­er­a­tors and Jaffna Traders’ As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing these protests.

But this win, which will help them cut costs in their busi­ness, doesn’t solve their big­gest griev­ance. Since the war against Rebel Tiger sep­a­ratists ended in 2009 these fishermen have been com­plain­ing about In­dian trawlers en­croach­ing into their wa­ters.

The large In­dian trawlers present in Sri Lankan wa­ters force the is­landers us­ing small boats to move away and fish in shal­low wa­ters.

The north­ern fishermen also com­plain about the In­dian fishermen us­ing il­le­gal fish­ing equip­ment and also net­ting sea cu­cum­bers, a prod­uct that grows in the sea and is le­git­i­mately theirs.

These fishermen are also dis­pleased with the il­le­gal tents that have been put up in some ar­eas by mi­grant fishermen. There are also con­cerns about the de­struc­tion of fish­eries re­sources by these mi­grant fishermen.

This prob­lem where In­dian trawlers en­ter Sri Lankan wa­ters has a long his­tory. In 1970 a mar­itime bound­ary span­ning 463 km was agreed upon by both states. But In­dian fishermen still con­sider Sri Lankan wa­ters as their fish­ing grounds. The mi­grant In­dian fishermen have found strength for their ac­tiv­i­ties in Sri Lankan wa­ters largely be­cause of the sup­port they have from the lead­ers of the Tamil Nadu State Gov­ern­ment. The late Tamil Nadu Chief Min­is­ter Dr. J. Jay­alalithaa cham­pi­oned their cause, but what stood in good stead for Sri Lanka was the non-com­mit­tal stance taken by the In­dian Gov­ern­ment.

For the record the two Navies and the In­dian Coastal Guards pa­trol the re­gion. But it seems that a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem can be brought about only through a change in laws.

In 2011 the two Gov­ern­ments set up a joint work­ing group. But the Tamil Nadu State Gov­ern­ment often makes claims of in­ci­dents and at­tacks fea­tur­ing the Sri Lanka Navy dur­ing which In­dian fishermen have be­come vic­tims. The Tamil Nadu politi­cians main­tain that these wa­ters that the In­di­ans fish in are ‘tra­di­tional fish­ing wa­ters’.

In­dian trawlers cruis­ing along the South­ern In­dian fish­ing ports Ramesh­waran and Nagam­padam use the Sri Lankan wa­ters. These fishermen also head to Palk Bay, known for its rich fish­ing grounds.

What the Gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka (GOSL) must fathom is that it needs to look into the griev­ances of its own fishermen with the view of strength­en­ing them.

This is a time when China is hell-bent on ex­pand­ing its author­ity in the sea and has com­pe­ti­tion from In­dia. Sri Lankans are quite aware of the in­ter­est that these two na­tions have shown in get­ting in­volved in de­vel­op­ment work in the is­land.

GOSL should un­der no cir­cum­stance ne­glect its North­ern fishermen and take its eyes away from the wa­ters they fish in. This is be­cause the war is over and the Sri Lanka Navy should main­tain its vigil on the North­ern sea 24X7.

The North­ern fishermen felt let down by the Il­lankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, a con­stituent part of the Tamil Na­tional Al­liance, in their strug­gle to find so­lu­tions to ex­ist­ing prob­lems in the fish­ing sec­tor. Its Leader Mavai Se­nathi­ra­jah seemed un­wel­come when he tried to join the fish­er­folk who were protest­ing.

In this back­drop the North­ern fish­er­folk have found some so­lace to their prob­lem thanks to the GOSL and not Tamil politi­cians. This au­gurs well for the fu­ture be­cause the GOSL work­ing closely with the Tamil com­mu­nity is so im­por­tant in the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

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