By Susitha Fernando
Colombo, Feb. 24 (IANS): On Wednesday, Sri Lankan fishermen staged protests in Colombo, demanding that the government implement strict laws to confiscate Indian fishing vessels to prevent Indian fishermen from entering their waters.
Tamil fishermen in the north and Sinhalese fishermen in the south have jointly protested and urged the government to strictly enforce two laws, amended in 2017 and 2018, banning bottom trawling and introducing heavy fines, as well as the confiscation of boats and gear fishing.
Herman Kumara, chairman of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, told IANS that the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act, which was amended in 2017, has led to a reduction in the number of Indian boats entering Sri Lankan waters. . He said the particular laws banned bottom trawling, a harmful fishing practice, and introduced heavy fines, including confiscation of the boat.
“It has effectively discouraged Indian fishermen from entering Sri Lankan waters,” he said.
Kumara also accused that it is not poor Indian fishermen but wealthy businessmen and politicians who are behind this illegal practice and poaching.
“We know Indian fishermen are poor and it’s their livelihood. But the main racketeers are Indian politicians and businessmen who sent them here.”
He said officials from the presidential secretariat informed on Wednesday that a cabinet paper had been passed to ban illegal fishing vessels from India.
“Officials from the Presidential Secretariat who met with a group of fishermen’s representatives said that according to the cabinet document, laws would be introduced to prohibit illegal fishing and that compensation would be provided on behalf of fishermen who were killed. Representatives of the Presidential Secretariat had also assured to have a bilateral discussion with the Government of India on the matter,” Kumara said.
Meanwhile, 29 fishermen have been arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy in February so far, with the latest incident taking place on Saturday February 19, in which six Indian fishermen were arrested. During the arrest made in the seas off the northwest of Kovilan lighthouse in Jaffna, the Sri Lankan Navy had seized an Indian dhow with six Indian fishermen.
In February, the Sri Lankan Navy also seized six vessels.
The fishing issue between India and Sri Lanka is a long-standing contentious issue where Indian fishermen allege that the Sri Lankan navy is shooting at them. In early February, the issue was discussed between Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister GL Peiris in New Delhi.