The India–Sri Lanka Fisheries Dispute


  • Tamil Nadu Fisheries University (TNFU) organized a one-day workshop in Chennai on deep sea fishing to promote deep sea fishing as an alternative to trawling in the Palk Bay.

What is deep-sea fishing?

  • The activity of catching fish that live in the deep parts of the sea/ocean is called deep-sea fishing.
  • The boats are designed in such a way that fishermen get access to the deeper parts of the ocean and fish species.
  • It is practiced worldwide, especially in the coastal areas with no ecological damage.

What is bottom trawling?

  • Bottom trawling is an ecologically destructive practice that involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the sea-floor, causing great depletion of aquatic resources.
  • Bottom trawling captures juvenile fish, thus exhausting the ocean’s resources and affecting marine conservation efforts.

What are the laws against bottom trawling?

  • The genesis of the problem can be traced to late 1960s when the government of India encouraged the use of trawlers in the Palk Bay to promote exports and earn foreign exchange.
  • The Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously passed an Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act that declared the method of fishing by bottom trawling an offence.
  • It is aimed at curbing local trawlers as well as deterring trawlers from Tamil Nadu.

What are the key territorial disputes between India and Sri-lanka?

Sovereignty of Kachchatheevu

  • The maritime boundary agreements of 1974 and 1976 were concluded by the two governments did not reflect realities on the ground
  • The ongoing dispute has escalated tensions between those fishermen using traditional methods and those using mechanized methods leading to increase in the infringement of territorial boundaries.


  • The issue of fishermen straying in each other’s territorial waters has come as a potential irritant in the bilateral relations between the neighboring states.
  • A total of 600 fishermen from India were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy in 2013, a sharp increase compared to the last few years.
  • The entry of ‘outsiders’ has not only threatened the local customary laws of fishing communities, but also turned several traditional fishermen from owners to laborers.

Territorial waters overlap in some areas

  • There is no well-defined boundary line between the two nations
  • Maritime border between the two countries is about 400 kilometers spreading along three different areas:
    • The Bay of Bengal in the north,
    • The Palk Bay
    • The Gulf of Mannar in the center and the Indian Ocean in the south.
  • In the Palk Bay region, distances between the coasts of the two countries varies between 16 and 45 kms.
  • This means territorial waters of each country in some areas strays into the others if 12 nautical mile criteria are strictly applied.

Poaching and Trawling

  • Overuse of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Bay has further Fueled the dispute over Kachchatheevu
  • The total loss of income to Sri Lanka from poaching by Indian trawlers could amount to 80 lakh Indian rupees to 200 lakh Indian rupees per day and 300 crore Indian rupees to 700 crore Indian rupees per year

What is Exclusive economic zone?

  • The UNCLOS (Part V) defines the EEZ as a zone beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which a coastal state has: sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources
  • India, a traditionally maritime country with rich maritime heritage, has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of about 2.37 million km2 wherein India enjoy the exclusive legal right to utilize all living and non-living resources.
  • The entire EEZ have been divided into two areas viz. deep water areas (> 500 m water depth) and shallow water areas (< 500 m water depth).

What is the significance of the “Blue Revolution” scheme?

  • “Blue Revolution” scheme, the Centre would allocate Rs 1,500 crore over a period of time for conversion of bottom trawling boats into deep sea liners.
  • Under the Blue Revolution scheme, Rs 100 crore was allotted and as a Special Financial Package Rs 100 crore was sanctioned by the Centre for this initiative
  • In the first phase, a total of 500 bottom trawlers will be converted into long liners at the cost of Rs 286 crore, he said adding a total of 2,000 bottom trawlers will be customized as long liners at a cost of Rs 1,621 crore in three phases.

Has the project been launched?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally launched the project to promote deep-sea fishing among Ramanathapuram fishermen by handing over work orders to five fishermen for the construction of tuna long-liners with gill nets.
  • As per the project, 2,000 deep-sea fishing boats, costing Rs. 1, 600 crore, will replace trawlers in three years.

How many fishermen will benefit from the transition?

  • Nearly 14,000 fishers from the Palk Bay will be benefitted by the transition.
  • More than 1,000 fishermen from Kanniyakumari and Nagapattinam districts have registered with the authorities for deep-sea fishing.

What is the cost factor of tuna long-liners with gill nets and its yield?

  • A boat costs Rs.80 lakhs and Centre’s contribution will be 50% and the State government will pitch in with 20% share.
  • Of the remaining 30%, 20% will comprise institutional finance and 10% will be the beneficiary’s contribution.
  • The duration of the deep-sea voyage would be between 15 days to four weeks and the yield from each voyage is expected to be 8-10 tonnes of high value catch.
  • This will work out to a profit of Rs. 7-8 lakh a voyage.

What are the various issues between India and Sri-lanka?

Historical perspective

  • Both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing into Palk Bay area for centuries leading to problems emerging since the maritime agreement between India and Sri Lanka in 1974.
  • In 1976, through an exchange of letter, both India and Sri Lanka agreed to stop fishing in each other’s waters.
  • Despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the countries continued their fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983.
  • The main problem with Indian fishermen is that a large number of them are dependent on fishing in Sri Lankan waters, which is prohibited by the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement.

LTTE issue has raised vigilance

  • The issue of fishermen came to existence with the emergence of violent ethnic conflict between the Tamil militants and the Sri Lankan government in the mid-1980s.
  • Increased vigilance by the Sri Lankan Navy to check intermittent flow of Tamil refugees into India and flow of arms and supplies to Tamil militant groups made fishing difficult and risky.

Security concerns

  • The monitoring has been on to prevent possible return of LTTE cadres, who fled from the island during the height of the conflict in 2009, to revive the insurgency.
  • This led to confrontations between the two fishing communities and in turn drawing intervention of either of naval forces.

Mechanized v non- mechanized

  • The main complaint of Sri Lankan fishermen has been against Indian mechanized trawlers that indulge in pair, mid-water, pelagic, and bottom trawling severely damaging marine resources and the sea bed.
  • Most of the trawlers from Tamil Nadu are owned by merchant capitalists from non-fishing and other social backgrounds.
  • Trawler sector in Tamil Nadu is also politically influential and financially sound making it more obdurate to solutions that could cut down its profit margins.

Were there any talks between India and Sri Lanka for a solution?

  • Ministers of Fisheries on both sides meet every six months since 2016, along with the Coast Guard and naval representatives to discuss the protracted issue.

What are the steps taken by the Government of India?

  • The Central and Tamil Nadu government has already planned to provide 500 deep-sea fishing boats with long lines and gill nets this year to replace 2,000 trawlers in three years.

What is the way ahead?

  • The solution lies in transition from trawling to deep-sea fishing in India.
  • Making the use of trawling technique an offence by the Indian government is another solution
  • India can try to get back the island of Kachchatheevu on “lease in perpetuity”.
  • Permitting licensed Indian fishermen to fish within a designated area of Sri Lankan waters and vice versa.
  • There is anevident need for institutionalization of fisherman in Indian waters by the government of India so that alternative means of livelihood are provided.
  • Government needs to mark up a comprehensive plan to reduce the necessity of Indian fishermen on catch from Palk Bay.
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