Government this week was making hurried plans to enact several regulations, in a bid to stay an upcoming European Union (EU) ban on the export of Sri Lankan marine products, but industry stakeholders said that the efforts were too little, too late. The EU has already issued a red card to Sri Lanka’s authorities with [...]


EU red card on local fishing has Govt. reeling in frantically


Government this week was making hurried plans to enact several regulations, in a bid to stay an upcoming European Union (EU) ban on the export of Sri Lankan marine products, but industry stakeholders said that the efforts were too little, too late.

The EU has already issued a red card to Sri Lanka’s authorities with a grace period of three months to regulate the modus operandi of local fishermen, or face a total ban.

Sri Lanka is currently the second largest exporter of fish and other marine species to the EU, after Europe itself, annually raking in some US$ 200 million.

Furthermore some 60%, or even more of the local catch is exported to the EU, while the remainder is sent to the U.S. and Japan, and any ban at this point will be disastrous to the industry and thousands of livelihoods, a Multi-day Boat Owners’ Association member, Jude Perera, told the Sunday Times.

He said that, at discussions held with Fishing ministry officials at the start of this month, it was assured that the local industry will not be harmed, and that, every effort was being made to implement the EU requirement before the deadline of January 15, 2015.
“Such utterances by the Fishing ministry have been made on several earlier occasions, but very little has been done to rectify the situation, and now comes a red card warning.”

The relevant authorities should have got their act together when the EU delivered a yellow card warning in 2012, but for some reason they chose to ignore it, and this is the end result,” Mr Perera said.

“At present, there are an estimated 3,000 multi-day fishing craft in the country, with some 30,000 directly employed and thousands of dependant families, and others whose livelihood is linked to this industry,” he added.

“All this could be lost, should the EU go ahead with the proposed ban, and thereafter, regaining legal entry into the industry will be an uphill task altogether,” Mr Perera warned.

His concerns were echoed by Seafood Exporters Association Secretary, Channa Weeratunga who was, however, optimistic that the authorities will be able to shoot down the ban before it comes into force.

“A delay in implementing the EU’s conditions has led to the current crisis, but the authorities, along with industry stakeholders are working towards it, and matters should be sorted out before the January 15 deadline,” Mr Weeratunga said.

He said that, with the proposed introduction of the Vessel Monitoring System (VSM) on every fishing craft, it will be a useful step in curbing unregulated fishing by local fishermen.

“With this system, a fishing craft could be warned if it was straying away from the mandated fishing area, and thereby, adjust its course and avoid complications,” Mr Weeratunga added.

He added that, however, the authorities should not delay in implementing the 72 requirements listed by the EU Commission to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing or else, the fallout would be detrimental to the local export market.

Fisheries Minister Dr Rajitha Senivaratne said the requirements will be implemented at the very earliest, and warned local fishermen of heavy fines, something like Rs 1.5 million, if they engaged in illegal fishing methods.

He added that the VMS has also been made compulsory for all operators, whatever the size, or else, they will not be permitted to engage in fishing.

Among the other new regulations introduced is a ‘Catch Certificate” or (Log Book) that must be maintained by the boat owner, exporter and buyer at all time, and will have to be produced for inspection whenever required by an authorised officer of the Fisheries Department.

The ‘Catch Certificate’ issued to the boat operators will have details such as fish specie, location, date and time of harvest, condition of the catch, estimated live weight, weight to be issued, name of vessel and skipper, registration numbers and the port of call, among other details.

A similar certificate will also have to be maintained by the exporter and the buyer, outlining details of the purchase, and the time and location, among other details.

In the recent past, several Sri Lankan fishing craft had been apprehended while operating in the British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT) waters close to Diego Garcia and elsewhere.

The EU, in its latest report, has identified Sri Lanka as a country that has failed to cooperate in eliminating IUU fishing, and therefore, called for a total ban on seafood exports to Europe.

“The ban is expected to come into affect from mid January, so as to avoid disrupting ongoing commercial trade,” an EU spokesman said.
“The ban will prohibit any EU vessel from fishing in Sri Lanka’s waters and from re-flagging to the island nation, while banning joint operations with a fishing vessel flagged to Sri Lanka,” he added.

“The ‘red card’ on Sri Lanka follows years of dialogue and the country’s consequent failure to demonstrate it had sufficiently addressed illegal fishing,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s main weaknesses, he said, “Include shortcomings in the implementation of control measures, a lack of deterrent sanctions for the high seas fleet, as well as lacking compliance with international and regional fisheries rules.”

SL at sea monitoring foreign craft fishing under its flag

At least a dozen foreign fishing craft registered under the Sri Lankan flag are known to be involved in fishing in the deep seas, but the relevant authorities do not have the facilities to monitor their activities, a senior maritime official said yesterday.

This group of vessels is a part of a larger fleet of some 60-plus foreign vessels that are currently sailing under the Sri Lankan flag, Merchant Shipping Director General, Ajith Senivaratne told the Sunday Times.

He added that the national flag is loaned to these vessels for an annual fee ranging from US$ 10,000 to 50,000 subject to its size and the trade.
“Though unable to monitor their activities, we can act if there are complaints.”
He did not rule out if any of these vessels were involved in illegal fishing, adding that, to date, there have been no complaints in this direction.
He said that, at present, these vessels are monitored by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

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