Warning over resumption of poaching by Tamil Nadu trawlers

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A prominent fishermen leader from Tamil Nadu says their fishermen entering Sri Lankan territorial waters is unavoidable, as they venture into the sea after a 60-day fishing ban on Saturday (15).

The comment from B Jesuraja, President of the All Mechanised Boat Owners Association (AMBOA) in Rameswaram has come in the light of a letter written by fishers’ associations in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

In their joint letter addressed to President Ranil Wickremasinghe, the signatories have urged an immediate halt to Indian trawlers recommencing poaching in their ‘thousands’ from this weekend.

“On 15.06.2024 boat owners from Tamil Nadu will once again send their trawlers to engage in illegal fishing activities, utilizing trawl nets within our maritime jurisdiction. In light of this pressing issue, we urge the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and associated agencies and the Sri Lanka Navy to expedite their maximum effort to monitoring and preventing the daily incursion of thousands of Tamil Nadu trawlers every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings”, the letter said.

They have also called upon the northern Maritime districts of Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar, and Jaffna co-operative societies, village federations and northern province Fisher People’s Unity to collaborate closely “to finally bring to an end, illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu in Sri Lanka once and for all”.

War-affected Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have been continuously accusing fishermen from Tamil Nadu of illegally entering into their territorial waters and plundering their resources thereby severely affecting their livelihoods.

Even after the bloody end of the brutal civil war, fishermen from the northern province were unable to sustain their fishing activities due to large-scale illegal poaching from their counterpart in Tamil Nadu.

However, the leader of the President of the (AMBOA) denies Tamil Nadu fishermen are intentionally depriving northern province fishers’ livelihood by entering Sri Lankan waters.

“Our Tamil Nadu fishermen entering into the Sri Lankan territorial waters though not intentional it is unavoidable,” said Jesuraja.

“The maritime boundary is too close and the drifting of the boats happens regularly due to sea winds. Also GPS navigation fails us at times and navigation during nighttime can inadvertently lead to entering their waters. We sympathize with our fishermen brethren from the North and assure them of our support and cooperation always. Tamil Nadu fishermen will never be a reason for the livelihood of the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen to be affected. There is politics behind the issues faced by their fishermen”.

Sri Lankan fishermen say they are not prepared to buy this story and expect their Navy and other state agencies to be more vigilant to ensure foreign vessels don’t enter Sri Lankan waters.

“Their intent is very clear. Enter our waters illegally, engage in large-scale poaching of our aquatic resources, make money, and leave us in the lurch struggling for our livelihood,” N. Mohamed Alam, a fishermen leader from Mannar said.

“It’s a question of life and death on a daily basis. Unless the poaching by the Tamil Nadu fishermen comes to an end once and for all, there is no future for us and we won’t be in a position to feed our families”, N.V. Subramanian, President of Northern Province Fisher People Unity noted.

According to Jesuraja, all the issues faced by both the fishermen across the Palk Straits can be sorted out in direct talks between them without political interference. He says the Tamil Nadu fishermen suffer the maximum while unknowingly or unintentionally entering Sri Lankan waters.

“Our boats along with the catch are seized. The boats are very costly and have been acquired on mortgage. Even when our boats are seized we have to pay the mortgage for the fear of it being confiscated. So without the boat and the business, we struggle to pay our loans and take care of our families. Also, we have to travel to Sri Lanka to get back our fishermen who are arrested and prosecuted in their local courts”, he added.

The question of Tamil Nadu fishermen’s suffering will not at all rise if they don’t enter Lankan waters, Mohammed Alam said, adding that “knowing well it’s illegal to cross the maritime boundary, they continue to do so and blame the navy and our courts for arresting and seizing their properties”.

Despite writing to the President on 11 June itself seeking to stop the entry of Indian trawlers into the Sri Lankan waters, the northern fishermen say they haven’t got a reply from Colombo.

The annual 60-day fishing ban by the authorities in Tamil Nadu is aimed at preserving marine resources and avoiding disturbances to marine life during the breeding season. During this layoff period the fishermen engage in repairing their boats and nets and organizing loans from banks.

Admitting failure to stop poaching in northern waters, Sri Lanka’s Navy Commander Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera had earlier said that seizing hundreds of Indian trawlers would lead to what he called ‘political implications’.

The Leader

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