Political Will Needed to Resolve Fishing Dispute - The New Indian Express

Political Will Needed to Resolve Fishing Dispute

Published: 24th January 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 24th January 2014 01:00 AM

India has behaved responsibly by agreeing to phase out destructive methods of fishing like bottom trawling within a time frame. This was among many decisions taken at a joint meeting of high-level officials of the two countries, a day after the fisheries ministers of India and Sri Lanka met in New Delhi on January 15. Bottom trawling involves dragging huge nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to the nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path. All evidence indicates deep-water life forms are very slow to recover from such damage, taking decades to hundreds of years. If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers of the high seas destroy deep-sea species.

Indeed, deep-sea trawling is devastating corals and pristine marine habitats. Waters on the Indian side of the narrow Palk Strait are fished out and polluted. So 600-800 trawlers venture daily into Sri Lankan waters. Fishermen in Tamil Nadu take to trespass, and acknowledge that some carry out destructive and illegal “bottom trawling”. By dragging nets weighted with iron bars they wreck coral and other life on the seabed. Indian fishermen involved in poaching are also unhappy because they live in fear of attacks by Sri Lankan naval vessels that ram the boats they manage to catch, tie the sailors up and steal their catch. Though bottom trawling is banned in both India and Sri Lanka, it is routinely done.

If implemented systematically, the phasing out of bottom trawling will remove a major cause of the fishing dispute in the waters between India and Sri Lanka. Simultaneously, the government will need to address the affected fishermen’s livelihood problems, in active association with Sri Lanka because this will adversely affect the lives of Indian fishermen. Clearly, it is a challenge that requires political will which will be put to the test especially in an election year where the fishermen are a vote bank in some seats.

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