COLOMBO: Talks between the governments of India, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu on the fisheries issue, which were held in New Delhi on Friday, ended inconclusively, because of the dispute over the release of boats/trawlers, a leader of Tamil Nadu fishermen told Express on Saturday.
“The actual proceedings of the meeting are being kept under wraps, with the press release saying nothing. But we hear that the issue of the release of boats created a deadlock,” said B Jesuraj, District Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Coastal Fishermen’s Association.
“I cannot say that the talks broke down, but there was no progress on the issue bothering us the most, namely, the detention of our boats. Detention of boats has led to great economic hardship for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry fishermen. We are disappointed that no deal came through,“ he said.
Ray of Hope
“But there is a ray of hope. The Lankan side said that it will have to consult the North Sri Lankan fishermen who have been agitating against the return of the boats besides demanding that TN fishermen should not be allowed to fish in Lankan waters. The Lankan side suggested that the boats issue could be discussed at the next meeting to be held in Colombo,” Jesuraj said.
Currently, 63 Tamil Nadu boats/trawlers are in the custody of the Lankan authorities, and more might be held given the Lankan government’s policy of releasing the intruding fishermen but not their boats.
Protesting against the detention, the fishermen of Rameswaram have been on strike for the past 40 days, Jesuraj said.
“At least 50 families draw their livelihood directly from a single trawler and another 100 families indirectly.
The cost of a boat/trawler could range from INR 5 lakh to INR 25 lakh.
And most fishermen borrow to buy a trawler, he said.
Asked if it will not be advisable to avoid fishing in Lankan waters, and go for deep sea fishing, Jesuraj said that this could not be done overnight.
“It will take three years, may be. Till then we will have to fish in Lankan waters. There is no fish in our side of the sea,” he said.
Jesuraj said that this calls for adjustment from the North Lankan fishermen. Adjustment is not impossible because fishermen from both sides had been fishing on both sides of the sea, for centuries, he added.
“We used to go up to Nedunthivu and they will come up to Rameswaram.
This was so even after the international maritime boundary line was drawn in the 1970s.
The sea was common to both the fishing communities. It was our traditional fishing ground. And after all, both of us are Tamils,”
“Crossing the IMBL became a problem for us only after the war broke out in Sri Lanka after 1983 and the Lankan navy started killing intruders.
“We have lost over 500 lives and suffered damage running into millions. After the end of the war, the issue of Lankan fishermen wanting to fish came up, and the Lankan government started arresting those who crossed the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL),” Jesuraj said.
Asked what could be done now, he said the Lankan government and the North Lankan fishermen should show magnanimity and allow them to fish for a period, say three days in a week.
“Instead of some people only having three meals a day, let us all have one meal a day, till we in Tamil Nadu develop the capability to fish elsewhere, say in the deep sea,” he added.