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* Sri Lankan, Indian fisheries officials hold high level discussions ahead of ministerial talks
Sat, Dec 31, 2016, 08:03 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Dec 31, Colombo: Secretaries to the Ministries of Fisheries of Sri Lanka and India met in New Delhi on Saturday to discuss the nagging fishing issue ahead of the ministerial level talks scheduled for next week.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) of India and Sri Lanka will hold a ministerial-level meeting on Monday, January 2 in Colombo, in order to find a permanent solution to the issue of fishermen.

Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in India, Minister Radha Mohan Singh will attend the meeting representing the Indian side while Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of Sri Lanka Mahinda Amaraweera will be participating in the discussion representing Sri Lanka to carry forward the decisions taken at the Secretary-level talks.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said according to the schedule agreed at the November 5 meeting between India and Sri Lanka on the fishermen issue, the ministerial meeting is to be preceded by a Joint Working Group meeting at Secretary Level.

According to the officials, today's talks in New Delhi are the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWGF) which consists only of civil and military officials of Sri Lanka and India. Secretary to the Fisheries Ministry, Director General of the Department and Sri Lankan naval officers were participating in the meeting today.

Sri Lankan Minister Amaraweera has said that the island nation loses Rs. 9 billion a year due to poaching by Tamil Nadu fishermen, and to prevent this, his government plans to slap a heavy fine on poachers. He had said that he would slap a fine of Rs. 150 million or INR 7 crore per vessel.

Tamil fishermen of the Northern Province, which is struggling to return to normality after a civil war of over 25 years, have been complaining that fishermen from Tamil Nadu, while engaged in illegal poaching, are using mechanized bottom trawling. This is causing havoc to the marine eco-system as it scrapes the seabed.

Under the current policy of the Sri Lanka government Indian fishermen engaged in illegal fishing in Sri Lankan waters are arrested and legal actions are also taken against them. Even though the arrested fishermen are released on humanitarian grounds their vessels and fishing gear are confiscated and will not be released.

In a recent press conference earlier this week, Minister Amaraweera justified the non-release of detained Indian boats saying that the policy of impounding of boats and not releasing them has reduced poaching.

The Secretary to the Sri Lankan Fisheries Ministry, W.M.M.R. Adikari, told Express that the draft law to regulate fishing does not mention the quantum of punishment to be meted out to poachers but the fine will be heavy enough to be a deterrent.

During the October meeting between the Foreign Ministers, India, for the first, agreed to consider joint Indo-Sri Lankan naval patrolling of the IMBL. The reconstituted JWGF has representatives of the navies and coast guards of the two countries.

This means that India is ready to prevent encroachment of Sri Lankan waters by force if necessary - something it has been reluctant to do fearing a political backlash in Tamil Nadu where all political parties blindly support the fishermen's "traditional right" to fish in Palk Strait and Palk Bay or at least around Kachchativu island, half way down to Sri Lanka.

According to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu O. Panneerselvam, Sri Lanka is currently holding 51 fishermen and 114 fishing boats in its custody.


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