Hooking the fish problem

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 04:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Govt. plans big for the fisheries industry; a new satellite system at an estimated US$ 16 million. Four harbours for Euro 41 million, expand exports to Rs. 50 billion by 2013, but admits to corruption in Euro 53 million Dikovita harbour project 

By Uditha Jayasinghe

The Government is planning a host of upgrades for the fisheries industry, including four new harbours developed at a cost of Euro 41 million and a new satellite system that may cost as much as US$ 16 million.

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Rajitha Senaratne addressing a media conference convened to divulge the future plans for the industry noted that much of the current problems could be resolved through a vessel monitoring system.

Already around 20 companies have submitted their tenders and Ministry officials are studying what the most appropriate mechanism would be.

“We will finalise the system by the end of this year,” he stressed, while admitting that the process was a complicated one since the Sri Lankan authorities thought it best to obtain a two-way system so that boats under distress could signal for help.

“Once we have the system in place it is very expensive to change, so we must study it completely before setting it up. In fact even I am still learning about the various satellites.”

With the vessel monitoring system in place, boats will be notified when they are heading out of territorial waters and where the best catch of fish is to be found. The Ministry is also launching a host of plans to develop the overall industry so that the current exports of Rs. 21 billion will reach Rs. 50 billion by 2013.

Cabinet approval has been given for development in four harbours excluding Dikovita, which has been tabled at Euro 53 million.

“There has clearly been a colossal about of corruption here. There is no need to develop this harbour at Euro 53 million when the other four are being done at Euro 41 million. I stopped payment to the foreign company last month and appointed a new project manager. A similar fate has befallen the two ‘mother ships’ that were commissioned before I took office.”

The concept of ‘mother ships’ was devised to allow boats to remain at sea for long periods by obtaining food, fuel, medical aid, etc., from the mother ships and handing over the catch to them for refrigeration without returning to shore.

The first mother ship that was commissioned under the Ministry was given to a company in Singapore, but in actuality was a company in Sri Lanka and the boat is being manufactured in China. “Clearly there has been corruption here and we are dealing with it at the moment,” he assured.         

Fishing has grown by 134% this year, with the largest growth recorded from the north. However, Senaratne acknowledged that more needed to be done to prevent foreign boats from fishing in Sri Lanka’s waters as well as to stop the use of illegal equipment and pledged to take steps with a special task force, including the Fisheries Ministry, navy and Ministry of Defence.   

Extensive plans are underway to build a dockyard in Beruwala, start a 2,000 acre shrimp farm in Batticaloa and increase the retail outlets of the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation to 100 by the end of this year.

At present Government intervention in fish sales is only 1% of market share, but the Minister pledged that at the end of 2011 with the completion of 250 outlets they would have a 10% share, which would help reduce prices by increasing competitiveness.