By Damith Wickremasekara
Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne is to visit India to discuss the issue of Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters.
He told the Sunday Times he would meet India’s Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar who is in charge of fishing.
“I have received an invitation from him and have asked the Indian High Commission to make arrangements on suitable dates in the coming weeks,” he said. Dr. Senaratne said the objective was to discuss the issues in the poaching crisis and related matters to ‘find a long-term solution.’ “We will try to find a solution that is acceptable to India’s Central and state governments and Sri Lanka,” he said.
On the issue of Sri Lankan fishermen seeking passage through Indian waters to fish in international waters, the minister said, “We will stand by the position on the Law of the Sea where our fishermen could use the Indian territorial waters to enter international waters. We will also insist that Exclusive Economic Zones are not violated and abide by the guidelines of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC),” he said.
The minister said the Government had pointed out that Sri Lanka had imposed tough penalties even on its own fishermen who intruded into territorial waters of other countries.
“With effect from next month, we will be implementing strict laws including the Vessel Monitoring System in keeping with European Union regulations and the IOTC guidelines,” he said. The minister was referring to a Rs. 1.5 million fine imposed on vessels that intrude into the territorial waters of other countries.
“We want to discuss how fishermen from both sides could carry out their fishing activities without violating rights of the other fishermen,” he said. The Indo-Lanka Joint working Committee on fisheries was due to meet earlier this year, but so far no dates have been fixed for the meeting.
The minister said the issues of detention of Sri Lankan fishermen would also figure during the talks. At present, 213 Sri Lankan fishermen and 40 vessels are in the custody of Indian authorities while more than 200 Indian fishermen are in custody here.
In a related development, the Northern Province’s Fisheries Minister, Balasubramaniam Deniswaran, said he would meet Dr. Senaratne to outline the Northern Provincial Council’s proposals before he visited India.
He said he would insist that the poaching issue be given high priority as it seriously affected the northern fishermen. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka last week called for the release of Sri Lankan fishermen before Christmas, but so far no response has been received from the Indian authorities.
Fisheries Director General N.D. Hettiarachchi will also be in the Sri Lankan delegation to India.