TIRUCHY/NAGAPATTINAM: They were the sweepers of the British Navy, which helped remove mines planted on the sea floor, targeting its submarines during World War II. Then, sometime in the 1970s, government introduced these fishermen to bottom trawlers that could maximise their income. The effect was felt in just a few decades, a frighteningly short time for ecological disasters to pan out.
“The destruction of marine ecosystem is already forcing our fishermen to cross the boundary and enter Lankan waters,” said B Sundaramoorthy, professor and HoD, Fisheries Technologies, Tamil Nadu Fisheries University.
The effects of bottom trawling include prevention of breeding. The most damaging is the disappearance of coral reefs. On this side of the sea, these reefs are the perfect habitat for fishlings to flourish. A study by Madurai Kamaraj University revealed that the coral reef cover across the Palk Bay and the Palk Strait has gone down to 19.2 per cent from 26.7 per cent. The reef cover across the 21 islands in the Gulf of Mannar has reduced to 36 per cent from 48.5 per cent. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had a role to play too, but that was only a one-time disaster.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the State’s coast has a 30 per cent shortfall in Primary Production rate — the amount of food required for fishlings to grow in the sea. In short, there is no fish here because we kill their young, destroy their habitat and leave nothing for them to feed on.
The Lankan ban is equally applicable to the fishermen from that country. Their Navy has intensified patrol. Sources said the Navy and coast guard detained at least half-a-dozen Lankan fishermen for pursuing banned methods. “It is impossible for any government to prevent apprehension of fishermen from Tamil Nadu. But while Lankan government arrest their own men for indiscriminate fishing, our government is not acting tough,” said U Arulanandam, president of Tamil Nadu Alliance for Release of Innocent Fishermen, a key person in the negotiations between both countries.
The extensive use of bottom trawlers was first felt by the artisanal fishermen here, who use catamarans and country boats. “We often return empty-handed. Adversities push fishermen to shift jobs,” said M Murugaiyan, a fisherman from Aarkatthurai in Nagapattinam.Hundreds of families, who could not afford mechanised boats, have turned to jobs that they have never heard of, often in Middle East.
Indo-Lanka Border Distance (fishermen sources)
From Dhanushkodi in Ramanathapuram, the nearest Lankan territorial waters is six nautical miles (NM) away From Kodiyakkarai, Nagapattinam, it is at 11 NM
From Adhirampattinam, Thanjavur, it is 41 NM
(*1 NM is equal to 1.8 km)