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End Of Days:
In Northern Sri Lanka, Fishermen Predict Own Extinction

Explosives, trespassers, environmental damage – fishermen in northern Sri Lankan say that if nothing is done about these, soon there won’t be a fishing sector left.

06.06.2017  |  

The anglers of Passaiyoor, a traditional fishing community on the coast of the northern city of Jaffna, are in trouble.

“Once fishing was such a lucrative job that many locals shunned higher education,” says P. Peter, 67, a fisherman and former chairman of the local fishermen’s association.

If something is not done soon, then fishing will no longer be a viable occupation in this area, and possibly will even disappear in the next four to five years.

There are more than a thousand families living in this area and many of them are dependent on the ocean for their livelihoods. But, as members of Passaiyoor’s fishermen’s association  told The Catamaran, the problems in the sector have not been addressed for years – and now the trade is increasingly endangered.

In the past the fishermen here used an environmentally friendly technique that involves hanging long nets on poles, just off the beach to catch fish, then hauling them back in.  But now many here and in neighbouring villages use trawlers to do their work. Earlier there were only a few trawlers, now there are around 500.

“About 40 years ago the catch was always superb and we could make good money fishing,” says Devasakayampillai Nirmalanandan , 68, the treasurer of the association. “But now we have so many problems. Fishing is not the job it once was.”

One of the biggest problems is the destruction of local reefs by the trawlers, which destroy the reef and ocean-growing plants as they move. The government has issued notices saying the practice is banned, Nirmalanandan says, “but we still see them in action. It’s just not that easy to stop this now. It could have been stopped more easily when there were only 20 or 30 trawlers. But now there are around 500”.

The population has increased as have the number of people seeking to make a living out of fishing, adds the assistant secretary of the fishermen’s association, Marian Maxil, 35.

“Another serious problem is the use of dynamite in fishing. When dynamite is used, it’s obvious that all living creatures in that particular area in the sea are destroyed,” complains Gracian Antonidas, of the fishermen’s association. “Coral reefs are very important for fish breeding. Due to the destruction of these, we have fewer fish. It will take at least ten years to bring them back. Then it will not only be the fishing community that is impacted. And nobody seems to care.”

If the fishermen themselves can hear the blasts, then why can the navy not hear it? the fishermen ask, with some of them saying they believe the navy is working together with the dynamite fishermen.

One of the biggest problems for the fishermen of Passaiyoor remains encroachment on their maritime territory by their counterparts from India. Attempts at making peace between the two countries’ fishing sectors have come to nothing and the tensions continue.

“We were told at the meeting that the India government instructed the Indian fishermen not to cross the border. But they still do it,” Antonidas noted. “When the Tamil Tigers ran the place, we had more security,” he complained.

All of the fishermen lament the fact that they cannot do much more than complain. “The provincial authorities are well aware of all these problems,” Peter added. “They know – but they are not concerned. They say they are powerless and that only the federal government can do anything.”

“Experts come here and do research on the destruction of the coral reefs. But nothing ever happens after that,” Nirmalanandan says sadly. “There are so many problems like this, people have started to migrate in search of other kinds of jobs.”

All of the senior fishermen’s representatives believe that if something is not done soon, then fishing will no longer be a viable occupation in this area, and possibly will even disappear in the next four to five years.

“These people don’t know any other work,” they say. “The sea is their life. If this continues, than the government will face greater problems with the next generation.”