COLOMBO: Talks between India and Sri Lanka on fishing in the Palk Bay and Palk Strait, which were to be held in Chennai on March 5, have been postponed indefinitely because the Lankan government is busy with other more pressing issues, the Director General of Fisheries, Nimal Hettiarachchi, told Express here on Monday.
“Fisheries Minister Dilip Wedaarachchi had to seek postponement because the government is busy implementing its post-Presidential election 100-day program and with getting the European Union’s ban on buying fish from Lanka lifted,” Hettiarachchi explained.
“ A fresh date for the talks will be fixed, taking into consideration mutual convenience,” the official said.
Asked what line the Lankan government would take at the talks, Hettiarachchi said that the North Lankan fishermen want the government to tell India firmly that Lanka will not allow Indian fishing vessels to cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). They want a guarantee from India that Indian fishermen will abjure the use of trawlers and other destructive methods of fishing.
“But the Indians want time to switch over to other fishing grounds or take to other methods of fishing. The Lankan government feels this could be discussed,” Hettiarachchi added.
The first and second rounds of fisheries talks were held at Chennai and Colombo on January 27 and May 12, 2014 respectively, following initiatives taken by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Earlier in February, Tamil Nadu’s Fisheries Secretary S Vijayakumar had written to Suchitra Durai, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, requesting her to obtain clearance from the Centre at the earliest for conducting talks in Chennai. March 5 was fixed for the talks.
EU Ban Hurts
Meanwhile, the EU ban on buying Lankan fish had begun to engage Colombo’s attention because the EU accounts for 40 percent of Lanka’s fish exports and 32 percent of its overall exports. The ban was imposed to punish Lanka for indulging illegal and unregulated fishing in international waters.
In 2014, the Rajapaksa government allowed eight high capacity Chinese-built and owned Purse Seiner vessels to fish on Lanka’s behalf. But these destroyed marine life needlessly. Lankan fishermen were breaking other norms. The Sirisena government is anxious to get the EU ban lifted and has introduced legislation to regulate fishing.