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SL estimates Rs. 700 mn damage to fishing gear by Indian trawlers

July 04, Colombo (LNW): Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Ministry has reported an estimated Rs. 700 million in damages to local fishing gear caused by Indian bottom trawlers.

This estimate has been communicated to Indian authorities, including External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar.

The issue of Indian bottom trawlers engaging in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing has strained relations between the two nations.

The trawlers frequently poach in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, areas known for their rich biodiversity and economically significant marine species such as shrimp, sea cucumber, conch, and pearl oyster.

A previous communication to the Indian Minister highlighted that over 1,000 Indian trawlers, primarily from Tamil Nadu regions like Ramanathapuram, Puthukodai, Nagapatnam, and Karaikal, cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) to fish in Sri Lankan waters, sometimes venturing as close as 200 meters from the shoreline.

Bottom trawling involves using heavy metal panels to scrape the seabed, causing extensive bycatch of juvenile fish and crustaceans.

This practice discourages Sri Lankan fishermen from venturing into the sea due to the risk of damage to their nets and boats, and threats to their safety.

Sri Lankan fishermen typically use small, traditional vessels with 8-40 horsepower engines, making them unable to compete with the much larger 400-horsepower Indian trawlers.

The Fisheries (Regulation of Foreign Fishing Boats) Amendment Act No. 1 of 2018 grants the Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard the authority to arrest foreign boats and empowers Magistrates to detain these vessels and issue suspended sentences to first-time offenders.

Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda previously proposed the creation of a Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar Joint Marine Fisheries Resources Management Authority.

The proposal was presented to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020, but the pandemic hindered further action.

Under the 1976 agreement, Sri Lankan fishermen are prohibited from fishing in Indian waters, and vice versa.

The India-Sri Lanka Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries and the Joint Working Group (JWG) have met multiple times, but Sri Lanka is now calling for these meetings to be reconvened to address the ongoing issues.

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