Healing The Sea: 

Healing The Sea: 

India must learn from Sri Lanka’s ban on bottom-trawling Context: The Sri Lankan Parliament’s recent amendment of its Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Act to ban trawling is a welcome step from both political and ecological perspectives. Introduction:

  • Sri Lanka’s legislative amendment to prohibit bottom trawling, a destructive fishing practice, is a welcome move despite its likely near-term consequence of deepening the fisheries conflict in the Palk Bay region.
  • Bottom trawling in the island nation’s territorial waters will now attract a possible two year prison term and a fine of 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees.
  • The practice involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the sea floor, is known to cause great depletion of fishery resources, and curbing it is in the interest of sustainable fishing.
  • The amendment is aimed at curbing local trawlers as well as deterring trawlers from Tamil Nadu.

What is bottom trawling?

  • Bottom Trawling is a fishing technique where a heavy bag-shaped net is dragged along the sea bottom using a mechanically powered boat.
  • Trawling, a more efficient and active technique, could “plough out” prawns from their marine habitats at the sea bottom, resulting in a manifold increase in output.
  • Trawling was developed in the temperate marine waters, which are home to fewer species. Inter-species interactions are limited there, while each species is available in millions of tonnes. In such an ecological context, trawling is not overly destructive.

Possible consequences of law amended by Sri Lanka:

  • If more are arrested and slapped with two-year jail terms after a summary trial, as the law now envisages, it may create new flashpoints
  • In recent years, some fishermen in northern Sri Lanka have also adopted bottom trawling.
  • If this practice of bottom trawling continues even among local fisherman, the long-term consequences on fishing resources in the contested Palk Bay region will be irremediable.
  • Consequence of deepening the fisheries conflict in the Palk Bay region
  • It will have an impact on the conflict between Indian Tamil fisherman and the fishermen of Northern Sri Lanka who fish in the Palk Bay, a highly productive but spatially limited marine ecosystem.


  • During the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka’s northern districts, Colombo had prohibited all coastal fishing in a bid to curb the LTTE’s naval prowess.
  • The Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay took advantage of the cessation of fishing on the Sri Lankan side and expanded their trawler fleet.
  • They also made risky fishing ventures into Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Their clashes with the Sri Lankan Navy often resulted in the impounding of trawlers, arrests and jail terms for fishermen.
  • The civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009.
  • When the fishermen of northern Sri Lanka set out to restart their lives, they found the coastal ecosystem significantly damaged.
  • It was attributed to incessant bottom trawling by Indian fishers.
  • From a marine ecological standpoint and socio-economic and justice perspective, trawling must be banned in coastal waters of all tropical Asian countries

Key points:

  • It is important point to note that despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the sides continued thareir fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983.
  • After the end of war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen have been raising objection to Indian fishermen fishing in their waters.
  • According to an estimate, more than 500 trawlers from Tamil Nadu cross the International Maritime Boundary Line.
  • Extensive trawlerisation engendered conflicts in Asian waters.
  • In Indonesia, conflicts took racial overtones as trawlers were owned by Chinese capitalists.
  • The widespread and violent protests by local small fishermen forced the military dictatorship to pronounce the first-ever trawler ban in Asia in 1980.
  • In India, the National Fishworkers Forum started protests against trawling in 1978. Monsoon trawl ban was introduced in Kerala in 1984.
  • In tropical marine waters, there are thousands of species, exhibiting phenomenal inter-species interactions, but each in limited quantities. Trawls used in such a milieu damage the ecosystem.

Conclusion: Both the countries should ensure that the situation does not disrupt regular meetings of the Joint Working Groups.

Besides the fisheries conflict, they need to discuss marine conservation, thus giving equal importance to protecting livelihoods and sustainable fishing. Both countries need adopt to peaceful amicable solution.

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