Sri Lankan fishermen raise concerns

Fishing boat   A day before the scheduled talks between fishermen of India and Sri Lanka, sections of northern fishermen said they received no information about who was going to India, what would be discussed.

A fishermen’s delegation, with members from the National Fisheries Federation, left for Chennai on Sunday, but some fisher leaders in the north — which is worst-hit by Indian trawlers allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters — said they were not consulted.

“None of us heard anything about the talks,” said N.M. Aalam, president of the Mannar Fisheries Cooperative Union, adding that many of the Federation members were politically affiliated to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party that heads the ruling coalition here.

“Both countries seem eager to serve their respective political interests, but it is important to engage with the fisher folk to be able to address our concerns. So far there has been no consultation with us,” said Mr. Aalam, whose Union has nearly 10,000 members.

On the rationale for choosing fishermen’s representatives for the talks, Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne told The Hindu on Sunday that the Federation, which he said had close to 1,00,000 members, was the only recognised body of fishermen. “Members are not just fishermen supporting the SLFP, there are some affiliated to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA),” he said.

The Northern Province has a strong cooperative movement among fisher folk and unions like Mr. Aalam’s have a strong base in the region. Fisheries cooperative leaders too are really pinning their hopes on Monday’s talks. K. Rajachandran, president, Jaffna District Fisheries Federation and leader of a Jaffna-based fisheries cooperative, said the agreement that Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen reached during the 2010 talks — where Indian fishermen agreed to stop engaging in the practice of trawling in a year from then — was not met. “Our fishermen are hit very badly by the Indian trawlers…so much so that many of our fishermen are turning into daily wage labourers.”

N.V. Subramaniam, former president, Northern Province Fishermen’s Consortium, said soon after the war ended, with virtually no resources, many fishermen went back to sea after taking loans from banks for their basic investment in boats and nets. “Now, with the threat of trawlers, most of them are unable to go to the sea and some families are in hiding, unable to repay their debt. We hope that these talks achieve something.”

A total of 50,000 fishermen in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province — across Mannar, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts — depend on fisheries for a living. (The Hindu)

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