In a significant step to curb bottom trawling by Indian fishermen in the shallow waters between North Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu in South India, the Sri Lankan parliament last week amended the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act, No. 2 of 1996 to ban bottom trawling.
While the ban is a progressive measure and a must for the preservation of the environment, it puts Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu in a spot. For decades they have been engaging in bottom trawling in the North Sri Lanka seas to keep body and soul together. But now they are being told to give up their occupation forthwith or face mandatory arrest and fine.
However, since there is a loophole in the act allowing Sri Lankan bottom trawling license holders to continue trawling till their license expire, Tamil Nadu fishermen may be given time to quit the area. The government of India will, in all probability, plead with the Sri Lankan government for some adjustment to prevent the sudden collapse of fishing in certain parts of Tamil Nadu.
Fortunately, in May this year, the Indian and Central governments launched a joint three year scheme to help Tamil Nadu coastal fishermen to switch to deep sea tune fishing. This scheme has to be implemented vigorously and on time if the fishing community is not to experience distress.
The joint scheme envisages the provision of 2000 tuna long liners in three years.
The Tamil Nadu fishermen have been asking the Sri Lankan government for a three year transition period, but North Sri Lankan fishermen have successfully lobbied the Sri Lankan government against giving in to this.
The Tamil Nadu trawlers not only destroy aquatic species on a large scale by scraping the bottom of the shallow Palk Bay and Palk Strait, but deny Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen of their legitimate fishing rights by elbowing them out.
Northern fishermen have been urging the Sri Lankan government to ban bottom trawling so that the Indian intruders are deterred. But arrests and seizure of intruding Indian fishermen and boats have not have the desired effect.
At the instance of the Tamil Nadu government, the Indian government would intervene and persuade the Sri Lankan government to release at least the crew of the boats if not the boats.
Even the loss of boats, which cost INR 8 million a piece, has not stopped Tamil Nadu fishermen from venturing into Sri Lankan waters because the catch of prawns on the Sri Lankan side is better than in Indian waters.
The amended Sri Lankan Act says that: “No person shall engage in or cause any other person to be engaged in fishing operations utilizing Trawl Nets, including nets without two wings or using vertical poles at the two free ends of the net, to be towed by motorized or mechanized fishing boats.”
“No person shall use, possess, import, transport, purchase or sell any Trawl Net, to be towed by a motorized or mechanized fishing boat for the purpose of carrying out fishing operations in Sri Lanka Waters.”
“No license shall be issued by the Director-General under Part II of this Act for fishing operations carried out by Trawl Nets to be towed by a motorized or mechanized fishing boat in Sri Lanka Waters.”
“Any license, issued under this Act for fishing operations carried out utilizing Trawl Nets towed by motorized or mechanized fishing boats in Sri Lanka Waters, shall not be renewed.”
Existing Licenses Valid Till Expiry Date
But a license already issued for the use of Trawl Nets, and which is still in force on the day preceding the date of commencement of this Act, “shall notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act, continue to be valid for the purpose and in respect of which the license has been issued, for the period specified therein.”
As regards punishment, the Act says: “Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with the provisions of the amended Act shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate, be liable to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not less than fifty thousand rupees.” (Newsin.asia)