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Protect livelihood,

Written By Freedam to the nation resettlement of IDPs on Sunday, March 10, 2013 | 10:31 AM

Leadership level talks to resolve cross-border issue:

Protect livelihood, say Northern fishermen

Sri Lanka's fertile fishing grounds continue to deplete:


Fishermen in the Northern seas
Even as President Mahinda Rajapaksa said leadership level talks are necessary for resolving the long unsettled fishermen's cross-border issue between India and Sri Lanka, and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne reiterated it, the issue seems to assume wider and international dimensions consequent to a workshop held last Monday at the Jaffna campus. The workshop for deliberations mainly on the depletion of fish stocks in Sri Lanka's Northern territorial waters and the livelihood problem faced by the fishermen was attended by members of the Universities of Amsterdam, Ruhunu and Jaffna, the Madras Institute for Development Studies and fishermen's organisations from Jaffna, Mannar and Kilinochchi.
The workshop was held the day before the Indo-Sri Lanka Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) was held in Delhi where the issue inter-alia was taken up for discussions. It was co-chaired by the External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid. The JCM was presided over by the Senior Officials meeting in the level of Foreign Secretaries of the two countries on January 21. The media release stated: "The Joint Commission noted that both sides are committed to decrease incidents pertaining to fishing on the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). Both countries agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances and reiterated the importance of continuing to extend humane treatment to all fishermen.
Both sides welcomed the decisions arrived at the two meetings of the Joint Working Group on Fishing held in March 2011 and January 2012 respectively, and encouraged senior officials to meet regularly to continue the dialogue to strengthen cooperation on fishing related issues."
Minister Senaratne, speaking to the Sunday Observer said it would be necessary to hold leadership level talks between the two countries because no concrete and early decisions can be reached at the JCM on the crucial issue affecting the fishermen.
The Jaffna workshop was addressed by Professor Marteen Baavinck, Professor of Geography at the Amsterdam University, Netherlands, Prof. Miss. Vasanthy Arasaratnam, Vice Chancellor, Jaffna University, Prof. A. S. Soosai, Department of Geography Jaffna University, Prof. Susirith Mendis, Vice Chancellor, Ruhunu University and Prof. Oscar Amarasinghe Faculty of Agriculture, Ruhunu University.
Prof. Baavinck is of the view that trawler fishing by Indian fishermen is basically the cause of the problem. It has assumed a complicating dimension over a long period and, therefore, it may not be possible to resolve it quickly. The governments also have to take a standpoint on fishermen crossing the international boundary lines. His organisation is trying to promote dialogues at different levels with the participation and cooperation of all stakeholders, Baavinck said. Explaining his interest in the cross-border issue, he told the Sunday Observer that the objective of his organisation, the REINCORFISH, is to contribute, review and assess the development of fisheries governance, frameworks and institutional arrangements in South Africa and South Asia for the resolution of core fishery conflicts. A key focus will be on facilitating processes to reincorporate the excluded. Through research and capacity development, the project will promote responsible fisheries governance that takes into consideration the principles of environmental sustainability, social justice and human well-being, he said.
The fishery conflicts under consideration have a bearing on the process of national reconciliation as it is taking place in both regions, and their resolution is critical to facilitate socio-economic development and poverty reduction, he said. He also has a personal interest because he worked both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka for many years and understands the livelihood problems of the fishermen, he said.
Prof.Oscar Amarasinghe said they started the research project, initiated by the Amsterdam University, in 2010.
They partnered with other institutions, including the Madras Institute for Development Studies, the FISHNART that works for small scale fisheries development, the Universities of Ruhunu and Jaffna and the National Fisheries Solidarity. The project name is "Reincorporating the Excluded"., he said. They did research in South Africa where small scale fishermen are marginalised. In Sri Lanka they conducted studies in the North where the fishermen are under the threat of Indian invasion. India has done a research on the state of the marine-eco condition on their side and know what is happening, but Sri Lanka has not done a study and we do not know the extent of damage done to our marine-eco, he said.
The Vice Chancellor of the Ruhunu University who suggested Jaffna campus as the venue for the workshop went all the way to Jaffna to participate in it, Amarasinghe said. All stakeholders including the Catholic Church and fishermen's representatives participated in the workshop. The ultimate objective of the project is to provide inputs and recommendations to policymakers and the government to take decisions. The objective is also to keep the Northern fishermen aware of what is happening, he said.
Prof. Soosai told the Sunday Observer the poaching problem and banned methods of fishing continue unabated for over two decades. They held dialogues with fishermen on both sides and with their representatives, but the dialogues were of no use and the depletion of the fish stocks in the Sri Lankan fertile fishing grounds continues.
Now the higher education sector has focused attention on the issue in an effort to facilitate and expedite a solution. The prohibited method of fishing practised by the Indian fishermen is a violation of the agreements reached between the two governments in 1974 and 1976. The Sri Lankan fishermen do not practise it. They use small boats and gill nets valued at Rs.300,000 or more .
The trawlers of the Indian poachers destroy the gill nets, posing a threat to their livelihood, he said. They do not get any compensation. Commenting on suggestions of representatives of the Government of India that the two sides should go deep sea fishing to avert clashes with an assurance to supply the necessary fishing gear, Prof.Soosai said that India should first send their fishermen for deep sea fishing since the Northern fishermen have no training in it.
S. Thavaratnam, President of the Union of Northern Fishermen's Cooperative Alliance (UNFCA), an affiliated body of 120 fishermen's societies, John Nixon Crooz, Secretary of the Union of Mannar District Fishermen's Cooperative Societies (UMDFCS) and Savarian Nicholas Logu, President of the Pesalai Fishermen's Cooperative Society (PFCS) who the Sunday Observer talked to and said they had lost everything during the three-decade-long conflict and now, even after peace has been restored, they have no freedom to return to their livelihood profession in their traditional fishing areas because of unrestricted poaching and threats.
Their fertile fishing grounds are being ravaged by prohibited methods of fishing and it posed a threat of the complete annihilation of all fish resources in the next three to four years.
They have explained their plight to the Government and to their Indian counterparts but the aggression goes on unchecked, they said.
They have repeatedly held discussions with their Indian brothers on this issue; they are not against the Indian fishermen but they only want their source of livelihood protected, they said.
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