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Friday, February 08, 2013 - 5.55 GMT

Indian trawlers hurt northern Sri Lanka livelihoods - IRIN


Indian trawlers are taking their toll on northern Sri Lanka's fishing sector which is struggling to recover almost four years after a decades-long civil war, IRIN reported.

"Since the conclusion of the civil war, Indian trawlers have been coming in closer and closer," Maarten Bavinck, director at the Amsterdam-based Centre for Maritime Research, told IRIN, noting that over half of the 5,000 trawlers based in southern India are completely or seasonally dependent on Sri Lankan waters.

As many as 100,000 people, or 20,000 families, are dependent on fishing in Sri Lanka's Northern Province, experts say.

Each day, hundreds of trawlers working out of the southern Indian fishing ports of Rameshwaram and Nagampadam cross into Sri Lankan waters, heading especially for Palk Bay which is known for its exceptionally rich fishing grounds.

In the late 1970s the Indian fishing authorities in some areas - in an effort to protect local small fishermen - brought in the so-called "three-four day rule", which ensures that large trawlers stay in harbour three days a week.

During their four days at sea, however, Indian trawlers routinely enter Sri Lankan waters, causing smaller Sri Lankan fishing boats to limit their fishing or not fish near the trawlers.

Fishermen in Vaddamarchchi, Jaffna District, go out to sea just 60 days a year, while in Pesala, a fishing village in Mannar District, they go out 85 days, Bavinck said.

"Normally, one would expect fishermen to go out for at least 200 days a year," the expert said, adding that many fishermen had no choice but to find alternative work.

On average a fisherman in northern Sri Lanka earns just over US$50 a month.

In some cases fishermen were losing as much as half their yearly average income of US$600, research by Bavinck and two other colleagues (Joeri Scholtens and Anandan Soosai) indicated.

Nineteen percent of the surveyed fishermen said their biggest concern was the encroaching trawlers, the research found.

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Last modified: February 08, 2013.

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