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Insights into Editorial: Troubled waters: On Palk Bay fishing conflict




The tragic death of four fishermen from Tamil Nadu, one of them a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee living in India allegedly when the Sri Lankan Navy was about to arrest them last week, is yet another instance of the unresolved fisheries conflict in the Palk Bay taking an unacceptable toll of lives.

While fishermen in Tamil Nadu say the four were killed in an attack by the Sri Lankan Navy, the latter maintains that they died when their trawler collided with a naval vessel while trying to avoid being apprehended.


India conveys ‘strong protest’ to Sri Lanka over death of Indian fishermen in Palk Strait:

  1. India has lodged a strong protest with the Sri Lankan authorities, who have set up a committee to find a permanent solution to the incursions by Indian fishermen.
  2. It was less than a month ago that the two countries resumed discussions through their Joint Working Group on fisheries after a three-year gap.
  3. India sought the early release of fishermen arrested in Sri Lankan waters, as well as the boats in Sri Lankan custody.
  4. Sri Lanka underscored the need to curb the illegal fishing, which adversely affects the livelihood of its war-affected fishermen.
  5. When the two sides decided to create a joint working group some years ago, they had agreed that there would be no violence or loss of life in the handling of the fishermen and that a hotline would be established between the respective Coast Guards.
  6. It is unfortunate that the hotline is yet to be operationalised, and deaths continue to occur.


Source of conflict between India and Sri Lanka:

  1. Ever since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, fishermen of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority north have been trying to start fishing.
  2. For decades, they had been denied access to the sea by the armed forces and the LTTE. They began rebuilding their lives with very limited resources and huge loans.
  3. They are confronting the challenge of bottom-trawlers, originating from Tamil Nadu and trespassing into their waters.
  4. Sri Lankan fishermen want an immediate end to incursions by Indian trawlers, and those from Tamil Nadu insist on a three-year phase-out period.


The Palk Bay

Historically, the shallow waters of the Palk Bay and geographical contiguity between India and Sri Lanka facilitated the movement of ideas, goods, and men.

  1. The Palk Bay, a narrow strip of water separating the state of Tamil Nadu in India from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
  2. The bay, which is 137 km in length and varies from 64 to 137 kilometres in width, is divided by the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  3. Bordering it are five Indian districts and three Sri Lankan districts.

Fuelling the dispute over Katchatheevu is the overuse of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Bay, the damaging environmental and economic effects of trawling.

To increase productivity and boost exports, the government of India embarked on a radical transformation of fishing techniques. The result was the introduction of trawlers.


Continental shelf and resources: Article 297 Constitution of India:

Things of value within territorial waters or continental shelf and resources of the exclusive economic zone to vest in the Union.

(1) All lands, minerals and other things of value underlying the ocean within the territorial waters, or the continental shelf, or the exclusive economic zone, of India shall vest in the Union and be held for the purposes of the Union.

(2) All other resources of the exclusive economic zone of India shall also vest in the Union and be held for the purposes of the Union.

(3) The limits of the territorial waters, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone, and other maritime zones, of India shall be such as may be specified, from time to time, by or under any law made by Parliament.


About Bottom trawling:

  1. Bottom trawling is an industrial fishing method where a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor.
  2. When the weighted nets and trawl doors are dragged along the seafloor, everything in their path is disturbed or destroyed, including seagrasses, coral reefs or rock gardens where fish hide from predators.
  3. Bottom trawls are used in catching marine life that live on the seafloor, such as shrimp, cod, sole and flounder.
  4. The damage from bottom trawling is not limited to habitat destruction. As the net drags along the seafloor, all creatures in its path—fish, animals, marine mammals, plants, and turtles—are scooped up along the way.
  5. The fishing vessel keeps the targeted commercial species and discards the remaining, unwanted fish and animals—virtually all of it dead or dying.
  6. Once coral and sponge communities are destroyed, commercial fish and other species dependent on them for spawning, shelter, nurseries, protection, and food, may also disappear.
  7. In addition, overfished species such as rockfish and crab may need corals and other seafloor structures to provide appropriate habitat for recovery.


Impact of Deep-Sea Trawling on Environment:

  1. The gears of Deep-Sea Trawling create huge on the life of marine plants and animals as well as the seafloor by disrupting the sediment column structure, overturning boulders, re-suspending sediments and imprinting deep scars on muddy bottoms.
  2. As we know that it is a method of Industrial fishing. Hence, profit motives drives more fishing or we can say overfishing that causes comprehensive ecological changes in the fish community.
  3. During deep sea trawling, fishes are not only the catch, but also other undesirable catches. The undesirable’s catches are thrown back to the sea, which reduces the marine ecosystem as well as increases the environmental pollution.
  4. The National Academy of Sciences states that the Deep Sea Trawling not only decreases the complexity, productivity, and biodiversity of benthic habitats but also damage the corals and sponges.



Joint Working Group needs to escalate this matter for a long term sustainable solution.
Spreading awareness among the fishermen regarding the consequences of bottom trawling. Transition from bottom trawling to deep sea fishing to be done. Skilling in this regard in necessary.
Replacement of trawlers with deep sea fishing boats needs to done fast. The replacement cost should be shared by both the government with a bare minimum amount to be paid by fishermen. Monitoring of fishing activities needs to done.

The humanitarian approach that has been expected to be the cornerstone of the approach to this conflict has not always been discernible.

A comprehensive solution, one that would severely curtail unauthorised fishing and help in an orderly sharing of and sustainable use of resources by fishermen from both sides, is long overdue.