Tougher action mulled against TN poachers

* Rajitha alleges illegal catch sold to EU


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government is mulling over a proposal by Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne to confiscate Indian trawlers taken into custody in Sri Lankan waters.

With the first Northern Provincial Council polls scheduled for Sept. 21, poaching will be a major issue to be flogged by the government.

Minister Senaratne told The Island that tangible action was needed to prevent the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet from plundering Sri Lanka’s maritime resources.

He said: "I have already discussed the issue with Attorney General Palitha Fernando, PC. As those managing the lucrative Tamil Nadu fisheries industry are bent on poaching, we have no option but to take deterrent measures. Andra Pradesh, too, confiscates our trawlers when they enter its waters."

The confiscation of trawlers would compel those engaged in the illegal practice to think twice before sending fishers across the international maritime boundary, the minister said.

The current practice of prosecuting poachers had failed to have deterrent effect the minister said. "We should confiscate trawlers and release fishermen."

Dr. Senaratne accused the Indian Central government of turning a blind eye to the massive ongoing poaching operation. Responding to a query, he said the government would go all out to apprehend those crossing the international maritime boundary regardless of political consequences.

Asked whether he intended to take up the issue with the international community in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Minister Senaratne said that as Sri Lanka and India had agreed in 2005 to tackle the problem as a bilateral issue it wouldn’t be possible to call for third party intervention.

In accordance with the agreement, all fisheries issues would be handled bilaterally through the Indo-Sri Lankan Joint Working Group on fisheries issues.

Minister Senaratne claimed that the fishing community in the Northern and Eastern Provinces had been deprived of their livelihood as a result of massive scale poaching by the Indians.

The minister said that the Indian Coast Guard could easily prevent the Tamil Nadu fishing fleet from crossing the international maritime boundary. Although the Coast Guard had the wherewithal to intervene, it was allowing the continuation of the illegal operation at the behest of the Centre and the state administration.

The minister said that India was exporting the illegal catch to EU countries at the expense of Tamil speaking fishermen. The minister alleged that in spite of the conclusion of the conflict, they couldn’t enjoy freedom of movement in northern, eastern and to a certain extent north-western waters due to Tamil Nadu poachers.

Those fighting for political rights of Tamil speaking people in post-war Sri Lanka had been strangely silent over the poaching issue, the minister said.

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