Sri Lanka bans bottom trawling, fishermen in India strike

Published on
July 11, 2017

A new law in Sri Lanka that outlaws bottom trawling has angered fishermen in India, who have organized a strike to protest the move.

The law makes it illegal to either fish from, operate, or own a boat engaged in bottom trawling. It creates a penalty of a LKR 50,000 (USD 325, EUR 285) fine and up to two years of imprisonment for the offense. Foreign fishing vessels found to be engaged in bottom trawling or in importing equipment used in the practice in Sri Lankan waters face fines ranging from LKR 1 million to 100 million (USD 6,500 to 650,500, EUR 5,700 to 570,600), the Columbo Page reported.

“Though we may experience a reduction in fish harvest due to the ban on trawling nets, we take it as a step in the right direction considering the huge damage this form of fishing causes to our sea beds and marine life,” Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera said following the passage of the bill on 6 July, according to FT News.

Mohamed Alam, vice president of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province Fisheries Union, said the ban would “bring much-needed relief to the embattled Northern fishing community.”

“Fishers who brought back 100 kg [of catch]… will now bring home 200 kg,” as fish stocks have a chance to repopulate, Alam said, according to Roar Media, which covers South Asia.

However, the new law has caused an uproar in Tamil Nadu, India, the Indian state closest to Sri Lanka. Since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, fishermen from Tamil Nadu have regularly fished illegally in Sri Lankan waters, often using bottom trawling. Since 2010, more than 2,500 Indian fishermen have been arrested by Sri Lankan authorities for trespassing, including 190 so far in 2017, according to The Hindu, an Indian newspaper. 

In response to the law, Tamil Nadu fishers have begun an indefinite strike and local politicians have issued a formal complaint to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Central government is lethargic and they are not mindful about the needs of the fishermen,” Meenavar Sangam, secretary of Tamil Nadu state, according to the News Minute. “Under the bill, Indian fishermen will be fined, our boats can easily be [seized] by Sri Lanka, and this bill would adversely affect the livelihood of the fishermen. We want the Indian government to strongly disapprove the bill.”

Sangam did not address the illegality of the presence of Indian fishers trawling in Sri Lankan waters. 

While tensions had increased between the neighboring states in the immediate aftermath of the ban on bottom trawling, which is part of a larger movement in Sri Lankan to make its fisheries more sustainable, one fisheries expert said the law may actually improve relations between the two countries in the long-term.

Gehan Gunatilleke, the research director at Colombo, Sri Lanka-based think tank Verité Research, praised the law for being “non-partisan.”

“The ban applies to Sri Lankans and Indians alike, so it will shift the focus away from the nationality of the offender and towards how damaging the practice is,” Gunatilleke said.

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