Massive poaching brings "NO CATCH" threat to Sri Lanka's
The Sri Lankan waters off the northern coast of
the island - between India and this country - may well be the most
poached fishing grounds in the world to judge by the numbers of
Tamil Nadu and other South Indian fishing craft who enter this area
Naval observation at sea and satellite images
indicate that anything from 500 to even more than 1,000 fishing
craft from South India enter these water each day. They cross the
International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) with impunity and fish
in these waters, often using trawl nets that go deep down and scour
the bottom of the ocean, endangering the habitat of the fish and
threatening the fish stocks in these waters.
While all this takes place with continued
regularity, the South Indian media have frequent reports of
complaints made by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa
Jayaram to the Indian Prime Minister urging that firm action be
taken against the Sri Lankan Navy for arresting Tamil Nadu fishermen
who fish in these waters. They also allege that some of those
fishermen have been killed by the Navy. Tamil Nadu's AIADMK leader
Jayalalithaa who has her own political rivalries with former Chief
Minister DMK's Karunanidhi, are having a battle of their own on the
question of the Sri Lankan Navy protecting this island's own
territorial waters from TN's encroaching and poaching.
both these politicians of TN are the loudest supporters of the
Tamils of Sri Lanka, who they claim are being harassed and deprived
of their rights by the Sri Lankan government.
What is clearly lost to both these leaders is the
grave hardship that poaching by the TN fishermen in Sri Lankan
waters cause to the Tamil fishermen in Sri Lanka's north, whose
rights they claim to defend. The obviously lack any interest in the
livelihoods of these Tamil fishermen, whose fishing grounds the
country's navy is trying its best to protect from the huge flotillas
of fishing craft, and large numbers of fishermen from TN that take
away the catch that must be in the nets of this country's fishermen,
and also cause a major threat to the fish stocks in these waters by
gross exploitation through over fishing in a rich fishing region.
There have been several occasions when in response
to loud protests and threats made by Jayalalithaa about the arrest
of TN fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy, some sections of the Indian
media have taken a more objective view of the situation, and quoted
fisheries experts on the matter. They have clearly stated the
absence of any necessity for TN fishermen come in such large numbers
to waters that are not India's, but have very large areas of sea in
other parts off the Indian coast where they could find a better
catch. But such objectivity is not the stuff of Tamil Nadu politics
today, especially with elections to the Lok Sabha drawing closer,
and the so-called cause of TN fishermen a big vote catcher for
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has throughout taken
the most realistic and conciliatory position in this issue of
fishing disputes that are being blown out of size by the TN
political leaders, and the those who support the extremist Tamil
ambitions of the now defeated LTTE. President Rajapaksa has often
stated that one has to understand the need for fishermen go where
there is fish, and the entire issue should be looked at from this
realistic and humanitarian view. He has stated this from the time he
was Minister of Fisheries, many years ago. He sees this as a matter
that is best resolved by dialogue between the Sri Lankan and Tamil
Nadu fishermen, who having to share the same livelihood could be
expected to come to the most reasonable solution, that cannot be the
goal of politicians. India and Sri Lanka do have a joint
consultative mechanism for this process, but such reasonable action
is clearly not favoured by the TN politicians who are fishing for
power through this support for poaching and encroaching in Sri
Lankan waters and heaping blame on the Sri Lankan Navy for carrying
out its duty.
We are now in a situation where fishing in these
troubled waters is bringing more work to the courts of both
countries. The Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are busy
doing their work, and in keeping with the laws in each country,
which is hardly to the satisfaction of the Tamil Nadu politicians
who seek to gain maximum political capital from this matter.
Here are some recent examples. Sri Lanka's court
in Mannar Wednesday (8) ordered release of 30 fishermen from
Rameswaram, arrested last month by the Navy on charges of poaching.
The Magistrate had also ordered the return of their seized boats.
They had been arrested on April 6 while fishing near the Sri Lankan
island of Kachchateevu.
Another report states that 15 fishermen, who put
to sea from Tamil Nadu were on Monday (6) allegedly attacked by Sri
Lankan Navy when they were fishing near Dhanuskodi. Indian officials
have said they were fishing in Indian waters, when the SL Navy came
in two boats and allegedly beat them up with sticks. The Navy
personnel had said they were fishing in Sri Lankan waters.
There are frequent reports of this nature, which
show the uncertainty that prevails in the area, and where there
seems to be little respect by the TN fisherman to observing the IMBL,
that divides the water between Sri Lanka and India.
Another recent report from Andhra Pradesh, said
that 11 Sri Lankan fishermen, who were arrested four days ago by the
Indian Coast Guard for illegally entering Indian waters, were
attacked by locals following rumours of their alleged involvement in
Three of these fishermen were seriously injured
after the incident occurred at Dummulapeta area of East Godavari
district, the police said.
Zee News reported the three fishermen had to be
rushed to the Kakinada government hospital, while the other eight
received minor injuries in the attack, the police said.
The eleven Lankan fishermen were arrested by the
Indian Coast Guard and handed over them to Kakinada Marine Police.
The arrested fishermen were kept in a house in Dummulapeta area with
two constables on guard, the police said.
Due to a power failure late at night, the
fishermen came out of the house for fresh air when some local people
attacked them, resulting in serious injuries to three fishermen and
minor injuries to eight.
This shows the tense nature of the situation both
for Sri Lankan and South Indian fishermen, in an area where there is
a pressing need for modern technology to clearly identify the IMBL,
as well as better awareness building among fishermen against
poaching in or straying into the waters of other lands. It is a fact
that unlike the large number of boats that come daily into Sri
Lankan waters from Tamil Nadu, only a few of which are intercepted
by the SL Navy, most Sri Lankan fishermen taken into custody by the
Indian Coast guard are those who have accidentally strayed into
Indian waters. Whatever the situation, the matter needs action by
the Police and the Courts in each country once and arrests have been
made. This is the due process of law, and should not give cause for
any politician to allege threats or harassment by the Sri Lanka
Navy, when there is no such charge made by Sri Lanka against the
Indian Coast Guard.
It is necessary to emphasize here, although it
will not be understood by Jayalalithaa and her ilk, that the Sri
Lankan Navy, just as the Indian Coast Guard is engaged in carrying
out its duty of protecting the territorial waters of one's country,
when it takes TN fishermen who are found in Sri Lankan waters into
custody, seize their craft and equipment and hand them over to the
police, as required under the law. What is of greater interest is
that the numbers of fishermen so arrested do not in any way reflect
the enormity of the encroachment and poaching that is taking place
daily in Sri Lankan waters, and only amounts to establishing the
territorial waters of Sri Lanka, which it is the duty of the Navy to
protect and defend.
It should also be understood that is a measure
being taken to ensure that the Tamil fishermen in the North of Sri
Lanka are not deprived of their right to fish in their own waters,
without being virtually overrun by the encroaching flotillas and
fishermen from Tamil Nadu. They may speak the same language, and
their targets are the same fish, but one has to arrive at some means
of bringing reason to prevail in this situation, in place of the
political rhetoric of those seeking to use the fishermen of Tamil
Nadu as a vote reserve for the coming elections, and even after.
There is also the necessity to recall that for
nearly ten years or even more, the TN fishermen came into Sri Lankan
waters when the LTTE was operating in these areas. There is plenty
of evidence, among Indian intelligence too, that the LTTE used a
large number of these boats , both by coercion and consent to carry
arms for its military operations, and also to assist it in the
attacks it carried out on the Sri Lankan Navy and on the coast of
Sri Lanka. That situation of conflict is now over, and the "freedom"
that TN fishermen had under the LTTE to fish or carry out other
operations in these waters cannot be allowed any more. Those who cry
out so often about the Sri Lanka Navy harassing, threatening or
striking TN fishermen (with sticks) must realize that the days when
terror prevailed in these waters are over, and one now has to act
under conditions of peace and respect for the territorial rights of
Despite repeated claims by Jayalalithaa that Tamil
Nadu fishermen have been killed in Sri Lankan waters, the facts show
that there has been no such situation in recent times. She is still
trying to recall what took place when the Navy was trying to prevent
the LTTE activity in the northern waters, using the TN fishermen for
its military purposes. That was a time when the Sri Lankan fishermen
either could not go out to fish in these waters or were restricted
to a very small area close to the coast due to the LTTE's threats
and tactical activities using TN fishermen and craft.
The different reality
The facts are very much contradictory to what
Jayalalithaa often alleges, and the proof has come from none other
than the India's Defence Minister A. K. Antony, who told the Lok
Sabha recently that there is no official record of Indian fishermen
killed in Sri Lankan territorial waters during last year.
In a written statement to the Indian Parliament in
mid-March this year, the Indian Defence Minister said Sri Lankan
Navy during the last one year had apprehended 23 boats and 131
The apprehended fishermen have been repatriated,
following the action taken by the Indian government through
diplomatic channels with the Sri Lankan authorities.
The Indian Defence Minister said that the Indian
government has been consistently taking up the issue of alleged
attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy with the Sri
Lankan government to ensure that the Sri Lankan Navy acts with
restraint and the Indian fishermen found near International Maritime
Boundary Line (IMBL) are treated in a humane manner.
According to the Indian Minister, in order to
avoid recurring incidents, the two governments have reached an
understanding in October, 2008 to put in place practical
arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen
crossing the IMBL.
As part of these arrangements, it has been agreed
that there would be no firing on Indian fishing vessels and that
Indian fishing vessels would not enter the sensitive areas
designated by the Sri Lankan government along its coastline.
The Indian Defence Minister told the Lok Sabha in
his statement that the Indian Coast Guard conducts Community
Interaction Programmes to educate fishermen on the perils of cross
border fishing and Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships are deployed
continuously (24x7) in Palk Bay area to prevent any illegal
activities and also to protect the Indian fishermen from any
attacks, while they are fishing in Indian waters.
During the 8th India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission
meeting held on January 22, 2013 in New Delhi, both sides reiterated
the highest priority accorded by respective governments to the well
being, safety and security of fishermen of the two countries, he
These are the facts that stand out against the
repeated shouting against Sri Lankan Navy threats to Tamil Nadu
fishermen. It is best is for Tamil Nadu authorities and politicians
give the necessary support to the efforts to put in practical
arrangements to deal with bone fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen
crossing the IMBL, as stated by Defence Minister Antony. Meanwhile,
the Sri Lankan Navy will of necessity have to take action whenever
necessary to protect the waters in the north of Sri Lanka from the
flotillas of encroaching fishermen and seek to ensure a good catch
to Sri Lankan fishermen in their own waters.
Courtesy : Daily News