• Recently, as many as 43 fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested and six boats seized by Sri Lankan Naval personnel.
  • A total of 284 Indian fishermen were arrested by Sri Lanka in 2019 (210) and 2020 (74).
  • Earlier in 2020, the Fourth Meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries was held through virtual mode.

Important points:

  • Both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing into the Palk Bay area for centuries.
  • Palk Bay is a semi-enclosed shallow water body between the southeast coast of India and Sri Lanka.
  • Problem emerged only after a maritime agreement was signed by India and Sri Lanka in 1974.
  • In fact, initially the 1974 border agreement did not affect fishing on either side of the border.
  • In 1976, through an exchange of letters, both India and Sri Lanka agreed to stop fishing in each other’s waters.
  • In 1974 and 1976 treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
  • The treaties also ended up making the Palk Strait connecting India and Sri Lanka a ‘two-nation pond’, under the relevant United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rules to the exclusion of all third nations.
  • Simply put, the bilateral arrangement bans international fishing and shipping.
  • However, the agreement could not stop the fishermen from fishing in these waters, as fishermen know no boundary.
  • Despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the countries continued their fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983.
  • Nonetheless, after the end of War in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen have been raising their objection to Indian fishermen fishing in their waters.
  • Later, India and Sri Lanka agreed to set up a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries in 2016 between India and Sri Lanka as the mechanism to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issue.

Way Forward

  • The fishing equipment that is prohibited in Sri Lanka must be banned by India in the Palk Bay.
  • Fishing practises that do irreparable damage to marine ecology must be given up.
  • The damage to the Indian fishermen could be ameliorated if the announcement is followed by two steps.
  • The trawlers can be used in the Odisha coast where waters are very deep
  • Trawlers could, with certain modifications, be used as smaller fishing vessels that cater to the mothership.


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