Sri Lankan fishermen launch flotilla protesting Indian poaching

Boats flying black flags and carrying opposition legislators demand that government block Indian trawlers.

India and Sri Lanka are separated by the narrow Palk Strait and poaching has led to tensions between the South Asian neighbours [File: Ishara Kodikara/AFP]

Sri Lankan fishermen have launched a flotilla of boats to demand that the government do more to protect the island nation’s prawn-rich northern waters from poaching by Indian fishers.

Boats flying black flags and carrying opposition legislators travelled 100km (60 miles) from the northeastern fishing town of Mullaittivu to Sri Lanka’s northernmost tip, Point Pedro, on Sunday.

“We have come in boats to protest bottom trawling by Indian fishermen,” M A Sumanthiran, a legislator for the main Tamil opposition party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), told reporters in Point Pedro.

Bottom trawling – which was banned from Sri Lankan waters in 2017 – involves dragging heavy nets across the seafloor to catch a large volume of fish, causing severe damage to the marine ecosystem.

The TNA said it was protesting Sri Lankan authorities’ failure to stop poaching by Indian fishers and protect the impoverished local fishing communities.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez, reporting from the capital Colombo, said the fishing community has been complaining for years.

“At the root of it is livelihood. It’s about Sri Lankan fishermen struggling to make ends meet, and what they say is mass-scale poaching by Indian fishing boats that come into Sri Lankan waters and take valuable fish stocks away with them,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said protesters are asking the government to implement more strongly the laws passed in 2017 and ensure that all offenders are held accountable.

Tensions between neighbours

India and Sri Lanka are separated by the narrow Palk Strait, a rich fishing ground known for jumbo prawns, and poaching has led to tensions between the South Asian neighbours.

Sri Lankan fishermen were not allowed to venture out during much of the island’s decades-long Tamil separatist war that ended in May 2009, allowing Indians a free run in the area.

But there have been increasing tensions over poaching since the end of the war.

Sri Lanka has regularly detained large numbers of Indian fishers and seized their boats, but there has been no let-up in poaching, according to locals.

An Indian fisherman was allegedly killed by Sri Lankan forces in March 2017.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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