Joint Working Group on fisheries
The agreement between India and Sri Lanka on establishing a Joint Working Group on fisheries is a small step forward in resolving the dispute between fishermen of both countries.
The points agreed on are important: a hotline between the Coast Guards of both countries, a meeting of the JWG once in three months, and a meeting of the fisheries ministers every six months. Welcome too is the commitment that there would be no violence or loss of life of fishermen.
Trawling- A major issue of India-Sri Lanka fishery dispute
The measures are useful in getting Indian fishermen or their boats released from custody, but they are unlikely to have any immediate impact on the real issue of long trawlers from Tamil Nadu continuing to fish in Sri Lankan territorial waters, and posing livelihood crisis for the fishermen of northern Sri Lanka.
The issue of poaching by Indian trawlers in Sri Lankan waters has over the years become an increasingly contentious one, seriously threatening the livelihood of Sri Lanka’s fishing community. Fishers being among the poorest communities in both Sri Lanka and India, it is an issue of national concern to both countries.
Indian fishermen practise bottom trawling, which entails scraping the seabed. This not only adversely impacts our marine ecosystem but also has a direct implication for the lives of fisher folk in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan fishermen are often forced to stay ashore for fear that these trawlers will damage their nets, their primary asset for livelihood. There have even been incidents of fishermen suffering physical injuries while attempting to save their nets from being damaged by Indian trawlers.
Sri Lanka in an attempt to take action against act of trespass into territory detained the vessels temporarily. And despite the risk of arrest, fishermen are willing to take the risk of returning in these vessels, particularly because they are desperate for a reasonable catch which they do not find in Indian waters anymore consequent to relentless bottom trawling.