Addressing presspersons in India, a day after both sides agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on the fishermen issue, a member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, M.A. Sumanthiran, said Indian trawlers were using heavy-duty fishing techniques in the coastal waters that must be ended at the “earliest”.
“Both sides made significant progress in the talks [held on November 5] that were led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera. We agreed that the Joint Working Group would have three tasks — of expeditiously working to end bottom trawling, facilitating joint patrolling of the coastal waters, and working towards release of arrested fishermen who strayed into each other’s waters,” Sumanthiran said.
Sumanthiran, who represents the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated northern province of Jaffna, said the agreement on the three-point agenda of the JWG would help end the long-standing issue of fishing in the coastal waters between the two countries. Apart from Mr. Sumanthiran and the two Foreign Ministers, the meeting on Saturday was attended by Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries Mahinda Amaraweera and Union Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.
Following the meeting, both sides agreed that the JWG would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries would be held every six months. Both sides also agreed that there should be no military attacks by the Navies and the coast guards of the two countries in dealing with the fishermen.
The agreement to end “bottom trawling” through the JWG came at the end of a long series of discussions. Earlier, Sri Lanka had rejected the suggestion that India would phase out industrial-scale trawlers over a three-year period, arguing that such a policy would damage the marine ecosystem. “We refused the three-year timeline as it is not practical. At the end of that period, there would be no fish left due to bottom trawling,” Sumanthiran said.
Following Saturday’s agreement, the first Ministerial Meeting as per the JWG mechanism would be held on January 2, 2017. (Colombo Gazette)