By Meera Srinivasan
A day after the 45-day ban on trawling observed in Tamil Nadu ended, as many as 29 Indian fishermen were caught by the Sri Lanka Navy on Sunday, on charges of poaching.
According to sources with the Sri Lankan Navy, the fishermen were arrested off Thalaimannar, and the Navy seized six trawlers used by them.
The arrest assumes significance, as it is the first instance of Indian fishermen allegedly engaging in bottom-trawling on the Sri Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) after the second rounds of talks between fishermen of both countries.
Fisher leaders from the two countries could not reach a consensus at the May 12 meeting in Colombo, with Indian fishermen unwilling to meet their northern Sri Lankan counterparts’ demand that they stop bottom-trawling immediately.
While the Indians agreed to stop using pair-trawling (rettai madippu valai) and purse seine (surukku madi valai) nets – which are banned in Sri Lanka – but asked for three years’ time to completely phase out trawling. Sri Lankan fishermen, however, said allowing bottom-trawling – Indian fishermen are charged of crossing the IMBL, and engaging in illegal fishing activity – any longer would further endanger marine resources, causing permanent damage.
The Palk Bay conflict has been a challenge area in the bilateral relations of the two countries. In the recent meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in New Delhi, the leaders emphasised the need to address the fisheries issue affecting the livelihoods of fishermen in both countries, particularly those in the war-torn Northern Province of Sri Lanka.