Fishing for workable solutions in the Palk Bay

News: Recently, India’s Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s Northern Province fishermen died in “mid-sea clashes” in the Palk Bay region.  In another event, 140 impounded boats of India fishermen were auctioned despite a bilateral understanding on the matter.

What are the issues in the India-Sri Lanka Fishermen dispute?

(A) Sri Lankan Fishermen Concern

A section of Tamil Nadu fishermen transgress the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the Palk Bay, and poach in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka,

Use of mechanised bottom trawlers by Indian Fishermen. This method is said to be extremely averse to marine ecology.

In addition, the Sri Lankan counterparts are facing the ongoing economic crisis in the island nation.

(B) Tamil Nadu Fishermen Viewpoint

Consequent to the demarcation of the IMBL in June 1974, there is a lack of fishing areas on the India side. For example, the area available for fishing is shallow, full of rocks and coral reefs.

Under the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, the mechanised fishing boats can fish only beyond 3 NM from the coast. This explains the trend of the fishermen having to cross the IMBL frequently.

What are the measures that need to be taken?

The people, especially fisherfolk of the two countries have common threads of language, culture and religion. This can be used purposefully to resolve the ongoing dispute.

India-Sri Lankan fishermen problem has to be looked at from humanitarian and livelihood angles.

The present Sri Lankan Economic Crisis situation provides opportunity to solve the issue at the negotiating table. The Indian side has already imposed a two-month ban on fishing on the east coast of the country. Sri Lanka should take the next step.

There is a need for resumption of the fisherfolk-level deliberations. Indian fishermen should propose a roadmap to transition to deep sea fishing or alternative methods of fishing. Further, the Sri Lankan side has to understand that the transition takes time.

In case Tamil Nadu fishermen damage the properties of the Northern Province’s fishermen, the Indian government should compensate this through the proper channels of Sri Lanka.

India should adopt policies for promotion of deep-sea fishing. The Central and State governments should implement the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in Tamil Nadu in a proactive manner. The scheme covers alternative livelihood measures too including seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching.

India-Sri Lanka has signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of fisheries harbours.

Recently, the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held deliberations in virtual format. The JWG has agreed to have joint research on fisheries. The study should cover the adverse impact of bottom trawling in the Palk Bay region.

The two countries should explore the possibility of establishing a permanent multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism. It should be empowered to regulate fishing activity in the region.

Sri Lanka should take a lenient view of the situation. It should refrain from adopting a rigid and narrow legal view of matters.

Way forward

India -Sri Lanka can develop a model for collaborative endeavours in fishing in the Palk Bay Region.

Source: The post is based on an article “Fishing for workable solutions in the Palk Bay” published in The Hindu on 23rd April 2022.

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