The Palk Strait, a narrow strip of water in the Indian Ocean that separates Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu in India, is a very controversial area among the fishing communities of the two countries. Indian fishermen were often arrested and shot at times by the Sri Lankan authorities for alleged raiding their waters in their mechanized trawlers. Last week, nine fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested for fishing in the waters of Lanka.
In May the Government of Tamil Nadu has developed a plan to reduce the number of trawlers in Palk Bay by converting 2,000 vessels of this type into deep-sea fishing vessels by 2020. Governments in the region and the State would provide 28 million financial subsidies for this.
In the order of the Government, the Department of Livestock, Dairy and Fisheries said:
… frequent seizure of fishing boats by the Sri Lankan government causes a sense of anxiety and insecurity among Tamil Nadu fishermen as a whole. During the discussions on the level of fishing, Tamil Nadu fishermen have expressed their willingness to diversify trawling in offshore fishing operations gradually over a period of three years, provided that the Government of India provides financial support for the same.
The passage of trawling in deep-sea fishing would mean that fishermen could leave Palk Bay and fish in the waters of the Bay of Bengal.
The Tamil Nadu fishing community celebrated the move. “We really do not have a choice if we want to avoid having problems with the Sri Lankan authorities,” said M Ilango, president of the National Fisheries Forum and one of the leaders of the fishing community to provide the transition to deep-sea fishing.
But there is still uncertainty as to whether the fishing community will adapt to deep-sea fishing and whether this will reduce tensions in Palk Bay.
As part of the joint Union and State Governments project, 500 large vessels will be transformed into deep-sea fishing vessels with nets connected to tuna fishing in the Bay of Bengal in 2018. In 2019 another 500 will be converted to 1 000 more in 2020. A sum of Rs 80 lakhs will be spent on each boat – half of which would come from the Center, 20% from the state, 20% from institutional funds and 10% from the owner of the vessel .
The Center has already released Rs 200 crore for the conversion of 750 trawlers in the first phase. The State Government will contribute Rs 86 crore in the project, including the daily allowance of Rs 5,000 per family during the last three months of construction.
“Only traditional / artisanal fishers and their societies / associations / SHG / FPO are eligible for the benefits of this component,” a letter from the Department of Livestock, Dairy and Fisheries dated March 9 said.
G Ramakrishnan, head of the fishermen’s community in the Pudukottai district, said his fellow fishermen were ready to start deep sea fishing if they received money. “Fishing is our way of life, so we can easily adapt to deep sea fishing if we need it,” he said. “Many of us Pudukottai can move north to Karaikal for better access to the sea.”