Colombo, December 22 (The New Indian Express): Sri Lankan and Indian experts in fishing say that a combination of toughness and innovativeness on the part of the Indian government will help curb poaching by Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lankan waters significantly.
Speaking to Express on condition of anonymity, the experts said that if the governments of India and Sri Lanka continue to be lenient towards the poachers, as they are now, poaching can never be stopped.
The determination of Tamil Nadu fishermen to defy odds and fish in Sri Lankan waters is evident from the fact that despite losing 111 boats to the Sri Lankans, they keep coming and inflict a loss of LKR 9 billion (US$ 60.5 million) on Sri Lanka annually.
“What is needed is toughness on both sides and an innovative economic strategy in India to divert Tamil Nadu fishermen from trawling on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL),” an expert said.
The experts noted that both India and Sri Lanka are veering towards a tougher stance and said that this trend should be kept up.
For example, the Sri Lankan side has been impounding the poachers’ boats, and New Delhi has not done anything to curb this practice because New Delhi also believes that impounding of boats will curb poaching over time.
At the last bilateral ministerial level meeting in New Delhi, India, for the first time, agreed to consider joint Indo-Sri Lankan naval/coast guard patrolling, which had been a long standing Sri Lankan demand. The Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWGF) which has now been set up, will have representatives of the navies and coast guards of the two countries. Significantly, the JWGD does not have representatives of the Tamil Nadu government, which means that New Delhi and Colombo will be more free to take decisions.
On the Sri Lankan side, a decision has been taken to enact a law to ban illegal fishing and illegal methods of fishing with a hefty fine for those who disobey. The bill is in parliament. No decision has been taken on the quantum of the fine though the Minister of Fisheries, Mahinda Amaraweera, has threatened to impose a fine of LKR 150 million or INR 7 crore. According to the Sri Lankan government, a hefty fine to curb illegalities in fishing is a commitment made to the European Union to prevent EU from black listing Sri Lanka. The act would apply to Sri Lankan vessels as well as foreign vessels fishing in Sri Lankan waters.
However, if the IMBL is police strictly, India and Tamil Nadu will have to plan for potential unemployment or underemployment of fishermen on the Indian side.
Indian experts, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that the best solution would be to ban all the 3000 trawlers now in operation on the lines of the demonetization of 85 percent of the currency notes in circulation. Tamil Nadu, aided by the Centre, could buy back the trawlers or give the fishermen an adequate compensation. Alternatively, in addition to a buyback or compensation facility, the Central and State governments could divert the fishermen to other occupations, trades and businesses, by offering loans and training facilities.
Indian experts contend that only a section of Indian fishermen are “traditional” fishermen wedded to sea. Many have strayed into the profession and can switch easily if the right incentives and facilities are given.
Even for traditional fishermen, there are alternatives within fisheries. Inland fisheries is a booming field. Trawler workers could switch to using vallams which can also go far into the sea in the Palk Bay and Palk Straits (even up to Delft Island in Sri Lanka).
The project to wean away Palk Bay fishermen from the shallow sea to the deep seas has to be better targeted. Right now, many fishermen who are already in deep sea fishing, have taken the subsidy to buy better deep sea fishing vessels. Such cases are found in Kanyakumari and to some extent in Nagapattinam and Chennai also. But fishermen from Rameswaram, who need to be converted and who are the cause of the trouble with Sri Lanka, have not been targeted.
Experts also said that it will be unrealistic to expect all coastal fishermen to take to deep sea fishing enthusiastically because deep sea fishing needs a different temperament and a different set of skills. The fishermen should be given an option to chose the kind of fishing they want to do. Both deep sea fishing and coastal fishing can be encouraged but this should be done in a rational and planned way, while avenues are opened up for fishermen to switch to other trades and businesses.
Experts further said that given the existence of a powerful Center under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a weak administration in Tamil Nadu after the death of Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa, the Center should be able to prevail upon Tamil Nadu to change its adamant and unrealistic stand on the India-Sri Lanka fishermen’s issue.
The experts also feel that Sri Lankan Tamil politicians belonging to the dominant Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should visit Tamil Nadu and appeal to the leaders of all Dravidian parties to be more accommodative towards fellow Tamil fishermen in North Sri Lanka who are trying to begin fishing after a 30 year gap created by the war.
(The featured picture at the top shows Sri Lankan navy men boarding a Tamil Nadu trawler)