World Bank says the growing demand for seafood offers an important opportunity for Sri Lanka to sustainably expand its aquaculture sector, in turn increasing employment, revenues for the private sector, and tax income for the state.
This is a good example for green, resilient, and inclusive development,” says World Bank Practice Manager for Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Christophe Crepin.
Sri Lanka has 1,620 kilometres of coastline and exclusive rights to fish, drill and conduct other economic activities in a 517,000-square-kilometre exclusive economic zone in the Indian Ocean.
However, this does not mean that there are limitless fish resources waiting to be harvested.
In fact, an important portion of the fisheries harvested by more than 50,000 Sri Lankan fishing vessels are already over fished and require rebuilding. Catches are declining; so, increasing the boat and gear capacity would only lead to more degradation.
Improved management offers opportunities for increasing revenues from capture fisheries and create skilled jobs, while complying with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission yellow fin tuna rebuilding plan, which calls for reduced catch.
“This approach is also in line with the World Bank’s green, resilient, and inclusive development framework for recovery from the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos.
Currently, about half of the tuna catch is spoiled even before making it to shore due to lack of proper refrigeration on most of Sri Lanka’s nearly 5,000 “multi day” boats that commonly spend five weeks at sea.
As a result, only a small fraction of tuna landings meets export-quality standards. Reducing spoilage could significantly increase export revenues.
This could be achieved through a combination of fleet modernisation improved handling of fish, and enhanced logistical arrangements to reduce time spent at sea, without increasing the overall catch.
Upgrading harbour facilities to meet sanitary standards would also help. Construction, refitting and servicing of vessels would create skilled jobs.
There may also be possibilities to diversify harvest beyond yellow fin tuna to healthy fish stocks and increase value addition along the value chain.
Sri Lanka’s recent experience with the blue swimming crab is a good example of how active community engagement in assessing and managing the available stock can improve fishing practices, stock status and market recognition.
It is also critical to conserve and in some cases restore coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and reefs. These ecosystems have been degraded by development and urbanisation as well as extreme weather events and climate change.