Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Department Director General N.D.Hettiarachchi said, Sri Lanka was pushing for an early meeting of the Joint Working Group with India to resolve fishing issues between the two countries, but the response has been poor.Mr. Gunawardena said although the Indian Central government had shown interest in resolving the issue, the Tamil Nadu [...]


Fisheries DG says Tamil Nadu and EU playing politics


Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Department Director General N.D.Hettiarachchi said, Sri Lanka was pushing for an early meeting of the Joint Working Group with India to resolve fishing issues between the two countries, but the response has been poor.Mr. Gunawardena said although the Indian Central government had shown interest in resolving the issue, the Tamil Nadu state government was blocking efforts.


What steps if any, has the Government taken to pressure the EU, US, Japan etc, from stopping Tamil Nadu fishermen adopting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Palk Strait?

We can inform the EU and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. But due to bilateral relations with the Indian national government we are trying to resolve the issue amicably.

An Indian fishing boat engaged in Bottom Trawling, an internationally banned fishing method. Pic by Lakshman Gunathilaka

On the other hand the Eu has slapped a ‘yellow card’ warning to Sri Lanka exports for adopting IUU fishing. Is this all political?

India is a big country and Sri Lanka is small and they tell us to follow all the guidelines but they don’t tell India to do so. It is a political act.

Are you saying the EU is adopting double standards?


The Joint Working Group on Fisheries between Sri Lanka and India is not even meeting. While they procrastinate aren’t the marine resources of the Palk Strait dwindling fast?

The talks have now been delayed for more than six months. We have informed the Indian authorities through our External Affairs Ministry to expedite these talks.

But so far there have been no indications when the meeting will take place. They always say next month and keep postponing it.

Is it because of political pressure?

Yes we think it is due to political pressure from Tamil Nadu although the Central Government is trying to resolve this amicably.

What is the response from the Indian Central Government? 

The Indian Central Government is willing to resolve the issue, but the state government doesn’t appear to want to solve it through discussions with the Sri Lankan government. They claim it’s the right of their fishermen to enter Sri Lankan waters. That’s totally wrong according to conventions of the sea. In 1982 a UN convention was signed. Sri Lanka and India are signatories to it and according to the law a country cannot cross the Exclusive Economic Zone.

In this case the fishermen are crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). In addition there is the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) that has 31 members including India and Sri Lanka. This commission has passed many resolutions that cover the issues about crossing boundaries. The Commssion also covers the issue of IUU fishing. According to the IOTC fishermen cannot cross the boundaries. 

We have explained everything to the Indian Central Government at several meetings and they were accepted. But at a practical level it has not been implemented. Fishermen continue to poach.

What steps are being taken by the Sri Lankan Government to stop this poaching “at will” by Tamil Nadu fishermen that forces northern fishermen to stay at home three days of the week?

Earlier the seized Indian boats were released. Now directives have been given to confiscate them. Last Tuesday we did this and the confiscation process will continue. The operation is handled by big businessmen in Tamil Nadu.

What impact does this continuing poaching by Indian firemen have on Sri Lanka’s fisheries industry? Any estimates on how much revenue we lose?

Bottom Trawling is banned. But Indian fishermen continue to use this method that has a harmful effect on our environment. You can’t save coral and other marine habitat when such methods are being used.

What is the economic damage to the country? 

About two years ago we made an assessment and made a presentation to the Indians. The cost is around Rs 6.5 billion.
nAny comment on the talks that Tami Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa is trying to initiate with Sri Lankan fishermen?
One month ago Minister Basil Rajapaksa during a visit to Tamil Nadu invited Indian fishermen to Sri Lanka .

We arranged a meeting. But Ms Jayalalithaa had told the fishermen not to come.As far as we are concerned direct negotiations between the Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen are not necessary. It should be government to government negotiations.

How many Indian fishermen are in custody here and how many Sri Lankans are in Indian custody?

Hundred and nine Indian fishermen are in custody here at present, while 35 fishermen are in custody in Inida.

States have to deal with bilateral disputes: European Commission official 

The European Commission’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries spokesperson Oliver Drewes told the Sunday Times ‘Countries which fail to adhere to its responsibility as a flag State and refuse to cooperate in the fight against IUU fishing run the risk of being listed as non-cooperating and no longer be able to trade fish with the EU’.

Following are excerpts of Mr. Drewes responses to question by the Sunday Times.

The European Union (EU) has ‘yellow carded’ Sri Lanka for engaging in IUU fishing practices. Can you expand on this please and explain what a ‘yellow card’ means in this context?

The EU IUU regulation aims at preventing the marketing of IUU products in the EU and thereby cutting off profit for illegal operators. This is done by enhancing cooperation between flag, coastal, processing and marketing States by ensuring traceability of all imported (and potentially exported) fish to the EU. Fishery products imported to the EU need to be accompanied by a valid catch certificate. Countries which fail to adhere to its responsibility as a flag State and refuse to cooperate in the fight against IUU fishing may be listed as non-cooperating and no longer be able to trade fish with the EU.

Before listing a third country the EU pre-identifies it informing it of the established shortcomings, proposing an action plan to remedy the situation and offering a period of time to cooperate with the EU and take necessary actions. This process is considered a ‘yellow card’.

Sri Lanka was pre-identified in November 2012. Taking in consideration the positive reaction and measures implemented by Sri Lanka, in June 2013 Commissioner Damanaki informed Sri Lanka that having taken into account its actions since then, it would remain under pre-identification and provided with additional time to conclude its remedial actions.

Is the EU aware that Indian fishermen are engaged in IUU fishing practices in Sri Lankan waters?

Is the EU aware that these fishermen are engaged in ‘bottom trawling’ (benthic trawling), a practice that scrapes the bottom of the sea bed and disturbs the marine environment – something that comes within the ambit of IUU fishing practices.

In the context of cooperation with their countries under the EU IUU regulation the EU is not addressing bilateral disputes of third countries with their neighbouring countries.

It is up to the relevant states to deal with bilateral disputes on fisheries in line with the provisions of international law (e.g. UNLCOS, United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement etc).

Is the EU aware that the ‘catch’ from such IUU fishing practices adopted by Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters, especially of prawns, shrimps and cuttle fish are processed at factories approved by the EU for export to EU countries?

The EU IUU regulation sets up a catch certification scheme ensuring the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU. The certification scheme helps countries comply with their own conservation and management rules and will also make co-operation among countries easier for control and enforcement purposes. Exporting country authorities validate information while EU Member States could request verification of the information in case of existence of well-established and documented doubts.

Indian fishermen’s poaching, bottom-trawling permanently destroying seabed environment: Experts

Marine experts say that bottom-trawling and poaching by Indian fishermen is ruining marine life off the northern coast of Sri Lanka, and warn that the region may soon be of no use.

Former National Aquatic Research Agency (NARA) Chairman Dr Hiran Jayawardena told the Sunday Times that Indian trawlers continue to come in looking for resources such as prawns, and are disturbing the eco system.

Marine Biologist Nishan Perera warns that Sri Lanka may suffer irreparable losses and the fisheries could collapse if bottom-trawling continues.

Excerpts of the Sunday Times interview with Dr Jayawardena:

How do you see the impact on marine life due to bottom-trawling off the northern coast? 

We are now seeing the effect of the long term damage with 100 boats coming daily. Basically, you are destroying the seabed environment by bottom-trawling. The Benthic eco system does not settle. It is like ploughing a paddy field daily.

The predations by Indian trawlers continue unabated, and there is a move towards acceptance, when all other countries have phased out and re-negotiated foreign fishing. Resources such as prawn catches taken from our waters have a high value. Otherwise, these large numbers of vessels will not be coming regularly.

Estimated figures show that 30 per cent of the Indian fishermen’s catch through bottom-trawling, is thrown back into the sea. Your comments?

The ‘Waste fish’ percentage is high through this system. Some part of the harvest goes unused., which is another part of the damage.

How would you describe the area where the poaching takes place and the damage caused?

The Palk Bay is a semi-enclosed shallow sea area with limited circulation. There is some perceived water exchange between the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Mannar, essentially through the strait area. The dwindling Dugong, other marine mammals and all marine species are presently taken without discrimination. The sea Cucumber harvesting banned in India is sold back through Sri Lanka for export.

What should be the reaction of the EU to this issue, at a time when they have taken action against our fishermen for IUU fishing?

We should be able to take up the issue. It is like the EU purchasing stolen goods. They should trace the source. It is like a big country robbing a small country. They should be concerned about it.

Unlike the territorial sea, the EEZ and Continental Shelf areas, these areas are under the regime of historic waters, and like internal waters, are juristically akin to land. It is like being asked to tolerate forcible cultivation of our land area. Otherwise, there is no value in declaring this area ‘historical waters’ in our bilateral agreements .

How should we take up this issue with India?

On the other hand India should be given a deadline to stop – they should pay for the resources or pay for the fish.
If we cannot curb prawn trawling and regular sweeping of the bottom environment of the Palk Bay and Palk Strait, we should give it up as a wasteland .

Excerpts of interview with Marine Biologist Nishan Perea

What do you see as the main issues caused by poaching?

One thing is, it is leading to over-fishing – the biggest concern is bottom-trawling, which is damaging the habitat. Some of the hard bottom is found in the Pedro Bank and the Waj Bank off the Northern coast. Bottom-trawling is banned in Sri Lanka. Any country with a good fisheries policy has banned this system.

The biggest concern is the real habitat destruction. After you clean out the habitat, the chance of catching any fish in that area is lost.

What about the concerns on bottom-trawling? 

‘The use of bottom trawling is a major concern. This is the problem of the traditional rights claim. Some claim that the ancestors came, but did not bottom-trawl. Even to give concessions is a problem.

What is the attraction of the Indian fishermen to these areas?

They are coming, because they have destroyed the fishing resources in their own country.

What is the long term damage by poaching?

There are areas in the world where there has been heavy bottom-trawling and the fish stocks have collapsed. Even after they stop fishing in the area, fisheries can collapse in a manner they cannot recover. There is a point at which you can stop and give a period to recover.

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