Deep sea fishing has always been an integral part of the country’s Blue Revolution vision to exploit fishing resources to the maximum within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The present plan in the Palk Bay is to extract 2,000 trawlers from the bay and replace them with deep-sea vessels that fish in the Bay of Bengal and Gulf of Mannar. The time period for this transition is three years (2017-2020), with 500 boats to be replaced in the first year alone. The Central and Tamil Nadu governments have committed Rs 800 crore and Rs 320 crore, respectively, to the plan.
It has taken over years to take concrete steps towards resolving the fishing rights dispute in the Indian sub-continent. Tamil Nadu fishermen have tremendous struggle with Sri Lanka over the sea. Tamil fishermen, knowing no international borders in eking out a living have been transgressing international borders, exposing themselves to jail by Sri Lankan authorities. This is a serious cause of worry as the fishermen are already risking their lives in the sea and to add to that the Sri Lankan security forces look for a chance to arrest our fishermen if they are transgressing. Deep sea fishing dispute continues with Sri Lanka for centuries and now taking a different turn as well.
The Palk Strait is the narrow stretch of sea that separates India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay region of the Indian Ocean. The strait is just 53 to 80 km wide that, fishermen on both sides of the waters often find themselves to have landed in the neighbour’s territory and gets languished in jails. The Palk Strait is known for coral reefs, shrimps, tuna, and prawns. Shrimps, tuna, and prawn are always in demand in any cuisine around the world and always have a good fetch. Thus, the businessmen employ fishermen and they enter into the area. The fishermen are pressurised for more catch per venture and thus, fishermen are forced to look out for all the areas.
Palk Straits, which separates the southeastern coast of India and the northern coast of Sri Lanka is just only about 12 nautical miles and the maritime international border running between the countries is therefore too close to the shorelines of both the Nations. Katchatheevu, a tiny, uninhabited island lying in these waters is a major irritating point and a hotbed of conflicts. This island, which was historically owned by the Rajas of Ramanathapuram kingdom, was ceded by the Union of India in 1974 to Sri Lanka and is under the administration of the island nation since then. The sea around the island is considered a rich source for fishing.
As fishing in deep waters is susceptible to monsoon on the eastern coast of peninsular India, productive voyages may be limited to a few months of the year. It is a seasonal catch and to make up the loss of time, the fishermen do other openings also. Many Indian fishermen regularly enter Sri Lankan waters, and many of them in the guise of fishing are running a racket of smuggling marijuana and other drugs to Sri Lanka. It’s a booming racket, and Tamil politicians are also involved in it.
The maritime boundaries between the two countries were settled by a 1976 agreement but the ignorance about the demarcations among the fishermen and the lack of GPS instruments make them vulnerable to such crossings and arrests. Sometimes they are forced to cross knowingly because of the limited fishing space. The use of trawlers has almost dried down the Indian side for fishing and hence, people venture into the other side of the strait. This makes one think whether deep sea fishing is feasible?
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)