Govt. draws the net on Indian fishermen

Friday, 23 August 2013 01:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  •  Decides to confiscate vessels to reduce poaching
  • Stops short of international reporting due to close diplomatic ties
  • Four Chinese ships under Lankan flag engaged in deep sea fishing but off territorial waters
By Uditha Jayasinghe The Government is hoping for more than a nibble after signing on Chinese and Japanese companies to boost its half a billion dollar fishing industry by engaging in deep sea fishing and clamping down on illegal fishing by Indian fishermen.   According to Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the industry loses an estimated $ 78.9 million worth of fish from illegal poaching from south India. The Government has targeted $ 500 million in revenue for 2013. “We estimate that an average of 1056 Indian boats cross into our waters illegally. If you calculate their catch we lose $ 19.72 million from their shrimp catch alone. In total they poach at least 65 million kilograms of fish each year.” These numbers have left Sri Lanka with little choice but to clamp down on Indian fishermen the minister insisted adding that he has sought advice from the Attorney General regarding confiscation of boats and heavy fines. “It we reported this to international bodies most of South India’s fishing industry will be shut down but we will not do this because of the close relationship enjoyed by the two countries. When we started prosecuting Indian fishermen poaching dropped by about 20% but it picked up again after we released them. At the moment there are about 150 Indian fishermen imprisoned in Sri Lanka.” Currently Sri Lanka earns around $ 250 million annually from fish exports, out of which 48% are earnings from tuna. Last year Sri Lanka captured 486, 000 metric tons of fish, according to Government records. Europe usually purchases around 38% of Sri Lanka’s fish exports but this amount has fallen to 33% last year with Japan increasing its stake from 37% to 47% and US buying 17%. Senaratne remarked that agreements have been finalised with two companies from China and Japan to increase deep sea fishing, which has seen slow growth due to lack of equipment. Currently Sri Lanka only has around 300 deep sea fishing vessels and these are only capable of catching 10-20 metric tons of fish at one time. “Four deep sea fishing boats from China have arrived in Sri Lanka. Eventually we hope the number will increase to around 20 and we are having discussions with other Chinese companies to enter the market as well,” he told media. The ships fly the Sri Lankan flag and are registered under the Board of Investment (BOI) as joint ventures of the Sri Lankan Government with 40% ownership to the company. They are then allowed to use the ports scattered along Sri Lanka’s coastline. “The investment is their vessels mainly, and they have paid all the charges for BOI registration and all our other charges. They are bringing in about 20 vessels, that investment is what they are bringing to the country. No vessel is allowed to fish in our waters. What we are doing is because 40% of the fish in the Indian Ocean is taken by European nations we want to take it for the benefit for our country.” Ten percent of the catch has to be handed over by the companies to the Sri Lankan Government which distributes it through the state-run Ceylon Fishing Corporation (CFC) so the public can purchase fish at low prices. Japan’s leading fish producer, known as ‘Tuna King’, Kiyomura Corporation Chairman Kiyoshi Kimura, has also started a company in Sri Lanka, the Minister noted. Eventually he too will operate around 20 boats. Both companies will be registered in Sri Lanka and will operate under the Sri Lankan flag. Once they are in operation the Sri Lankan Government expects fishing revenue to double hitting $ 500 million.