By Camelia Nathaniel
Sri Lanka’s fishing industry is losing over Rs. 600 million as a result of poaching by Indian fishermen and licensed fishing by Chinese trawlers.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader the convenor of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Herman Kumara said that in addition to the Indian fishing trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters, the Chinese trawlers are exploiting local fishing resources with the approval of the government.
“Although the permits were given to the Chinese under the BOI, it was to fish in international waters and permission was granted to come to our harbours to export that fish. However, they were not given permission to unload their catch here. But that is not happening and the Chinese are unloading their catch locally and selling it to the local exporting companies, forcing our local fishermen out of business.
“There are four Chinese vessels so far and the Chinese plan to expand their operations to 20 vessels with 16 more are on the way. With these 20 vessels they will unload fish into our harbours and they fish in our waters. Although the fisheries ministry denies this, it is happening. Because of that the local fish prices for the local fishermen, who are dealing with the same companies, have reduced drastically.
“Earlier a kilo of tuna used to sell for around Rs. 800 but now the local fishermen find it hard to sell their tuna even for Rs. 250 to 300. Hence the arrest of the local fishermen in international waters are all interconnected to the fact that both the Indian and Chinese fishermen are exploiting the local fishing resources,” he said.
However, when The Sunday Leader contacted the Deputy Minister of Fisheries Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, he denied that the Chinese were unloading their fish stocks to the local market. “That is a total lie, and we have told the local fishing community that if they have any information that the Chinese vessels are unloading the fish in the local harbours, to inform us. To my knowledge not a single fish is unloaded at our harbours.
However, I am unaware of the other 16 Chinese vessels that are to be added to the fleet as it is handled by the minister. But on the issue of the Indian trawlers encroaching in our territorial waters, I have also challenged the TNA to take up the matter with the Tamil Nadu government and save the livelihood of the poor Tamil fishermen in the North,” he said. Meanwhile, Kumara said that 213 Sri Lankan fishermen and 43 fishing vessels are being held at the Chennai Central jail and also at Tuticorin. Most local fishermen claim that they are arrested by the Indian coast guard when they cross international waters through what is known as the innocent passage.