Fishermen from Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka will meet after a gap of nearly one and a half years, with all previous rounds of negotiations among fisher leaders proving futile. Ten fisher cooperative leaders from Sri Lanka left for New Delhi on Monday, to be joined by 12 of their counterparts from Tamil Nadu.
This would be followed by a high-level meeting in New Delhi on November 5, to discuss a possible solution to the lingering problem of Indian fishermen allegedly fishing in Sri Lankan waters, using the practice of bottom-trawling.
Foreign Ministers of India and Sri Lanka, along with Sri Lanka’s Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare – also in-charge of fisheries – will come together for the first time to possibly evolve a joint strategy to tackle the fisheries conflict.
“The matter is being taken at the highest level, both sides are keen on finding a lasting solution,” a senior official in Colombo said.
Following Sri Lanka’s January 2015 presidential elections, India’s relations with Sri Lanka witnessed a marked improvement, evidenced in a series of high-level visits from both sides.
The fisheries issue repeatedly figured in high-level meetings, including in Goa recently, when President Maithripala Sirisena raised the matter with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sri Lankan fishermen, who are Tamils living in the war-torn northern province of the island, want Indian fishermen to stop engaging in bottom-trawling, a fishing practice known to harm the marine ecosystem. Nearly two lakh Tamils living in Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar depend on the sea for a living.
Indian fishermen, who are often caught engaging in illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters, have sought more time to phase out trawling. The Sri Lankan Navy has arrested 235 Indian fishermen until mid-October on charges of engaging in illegal fishing. Since 2014, Sri Lanka has refused to release over 100 seized trawlers, which has to an extent deterred Indian fishermen from venturing deep.