By A. Hettiarachchi
A large number of media reports, feature articles, and editorials have appeared during the last three to four years and continue to appear highlighting the issue of organized and large-scale poaching of shrimp and fish resources in the historic waters of Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar by Indian fishers.
This high-handed activity has caused and continues to cause colossal losses to the economy of the country, heavy damages to the marine environment in the respective areas and immense inconvenience to the local fishers in the North. The annual loss to the economy due to poaching by Indian fishers has been estimated at over Rs. 6 billion. Indian trawlers also damage gillnets laid by local fishers by running over them. Scholtens, Bavinck and Sosai have reported in their article, Fishing in Dire Straits: Trans-Boundary Incursions in the Palk Bay (Economic & Political Weekly Vol. XLVII No. 25 of June 23, 2012) that due to gear destruction by Indian trawlers, the Karainager Fisheries Co-operative Society has suffered a loss of Rs. 2.898 million from 1 February 2010 to 1 April 2011, while Mathagal FCS has lost an amount of Rs. 6.459 million from 2 July 2009 to 16 October 2011.
This is only the loss suffered by two cooperative societies with 162 fishers during a period of less than 14 or 15 months. The total number of fishers resident in the Jaffna and Mannar districts amounts to over 22,000. What would have been the total loss suffered by them due to the destruction of their fishing gear by the Indian trawlers?
Although the problem is so severe, apart from the arrests of poachers made by the Sri Lanka Navy no other action appears to have been taken by the government to protect these valuable shrimp and fish resources, which are under threat of total destruction due to the uncontrolled poaching by Indian trawlers. They have already ruined the resources on the Indian side beyond revival and that is why they cross over to the Sri Lankan side. Similar thing happened in 1940s to Sri Lanka’s famous pearl fisheries in the in the Gulf of Mannar. Those fisheries which were in existence since the early Anuradhapura Period, totally collapsed due to over-exploitation by pearl fishing companies under license from the government of Sri Lanka over a period of over 10 years. If this poaching by Indian trawlers continues it will be the same fate before long for the shrimp fisheries and other fisheries of Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and in the Palk Bay.
Waters of the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar, where poaching is mostly taking place have been declared as the historic waters of Sri Lanka by a Presidential proclamation made under the Maritime Zones Law, No. 22 of 1976 (Gazette Extraordinary 248/1 dated 15 January 1977). More....