Monday, 28 April 2014 00:00
Sri Lanka’s fishing sector seems to perpetually be caught in stormy waters, so the news that the industry is dusting itself off after decades comes as welcome news. However, the continuing standoff with Indian fishermen continues to make the whole situation smell, well, fishy.
The income from the export of fish in 2010 was Rs. 19,834 million while in 2011 the income was Rs. 21,876 million. It rose to Rs. 26,363 million in 2012, with a considerable increase even on that figure to Rs. 31,792 million in 2013, showing a record increase of 21%.
According to the Minister, during the last few years the import of fisheries products had gradually declined. In 2010, Sri Lanka imported 80,013 metric tons of fish products. In 2012 there was a decline in imports by 13%, the volume being 71,413 metric tons. Imports of dried fish amounted to 18,477 metric tons in 2010, and in 2012 there was a reduction 20% with the volume of 14,165 metric tons.
In 2010, Sri Lanka imported 27,304 metric tons of dried sprats while in 2012 imports were reduced to a quantity amounting to 25,181 metric tons, the volume being less by 9%. In 2010 imports were 2871 metric tons of Maldive fish while in 2012 Sri Lanka was able to reduce this to 1,383 metric tons, indicating a 50% reduction.
The income from the export of fish in the year 2010 was Rs. 19,834 million while in 2011 the income was Rs. 21,876 million. It rose to Rs. 26,363 million in 2012 with a considerable increase even on that figure to Rs. 31,792 million in 2013, showing a record increase of 21%. This was stated by Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Dr. Rajitha Senarathne at a special discussion held in the Ministry recently.
Sri Lanka’s fish exports have earned Rs. 31,792 million in 2013. The target is to increase this amount to Rs. 50,000 million within the next few years. Putting uncertainly to this mix is the situation with the Indian fishermen. Yet another round of talks is likely to take place within the next few weeks with poaching at the centre of the issue. Continued political changes in India and international pressure on Sri Lanka can also affect this dynamic.
Colombo has previously defended its soft-peddling of the issue by pointing out that if reports are made to international bodies, most of South India’s fishing industry will be shut down and this could not be allowed because of the close relationship enjoyed by the two countries. Yet of late things seem to have gotten out of hand. As many as 400 fish processing plants subsist on this catch and hints have been made by the Minister that strong political backing is given by the Tamil Nadu Government.
Ironically, the illegal fishing is affecting northern fishermen the most, who have complained that the Indians use banned fishing methods, destroying coral beds and hacking the seabed beyond repair. Even though the Tamil Nadu Government identifies strongly with the northern population and is often vocal about their political rights, it stumbles when it comes to protecting their economy and livelihoods.
Sri Lanka’s Government will have to step up its diplomatic engagement with India as well as internationally so that excessive reliance on India for support on other issues will not spill over into the fishing problem, as was seen a few weeks ago when President Mahinda Rajapaksa released Indian fishermen as a ‘goodwill’ gesture when India abstained from voting at the UNHRC. Separating and prioritising issues on a diplomatic level is likely to be the greatest challenge of all.