Sri Lankan fishermen restless

    LivelihoodSri Lankan fishermen restless
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    Sri Lankan fishermen restless

    Inflation has added to the woes of fishing communities, already anguished by a series of environmental and business developments.

    Rising fuel prices have Sri Lanka’s fishermen up in arms. They say that this will cripple the fishing sector along with the damage done over the past years to the marine ecosystem.

    “We consider the continuous price revisions of fuel and even other essential commodities as a move to destablise the fisheries sector,” says Aruna Roshantha Fernando, president of the All-Ceylon Fisher-Folks Trade Union. “This will enable global companies to expand their territories making use of the port city to exploit the marine resources of the country,” he said.

    Sri Lanka’s runaway inflation has led to a huge hike in the price of essential foods. The fishermen say that families will not be able to purchase fish, an essential for Sri Lankan households, if they factor in the price of the fuel costs. “Selling a catch without considering the hike in fuel prices is not viable,” said a fisher trade union leader, emphasising that the present situation was exceptionally difficult.

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    An alliance of Sri Lankan fishermen trade unions is scheduled to meet this week to map out plans.

    “We have been battered for nearly two years with a meagre income due to the (COVID-19) pandemic which has shattered the hopes of the community for a better living,” local media quoted Fernando as saying.

    The rise in the cost of fuel that they need to run their fishing boat engines deep into the waters of the Indian ocean is the latest in a series of setbacks that the fishing communities of the island nation have faced in the past five years.

    2021 oil spill

    Oil spilling from a sinking ship off the coast in June 2021 impacted their living together with the COVID-19 pandemic at that time. The had to venture out in the deep sea to get a catch, spending more fuel and yet, unable to find buyers for their catch. “People were then scared to buy the fish because they thought it was contaminated.”

    The oil has had its share of environmental damages.

    An UN Environment Programme (UNEP) official described the event as “the biggest environmental catastrophe to hit Sri Lanka since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.”

    According to the UNEP, the ship’s cargo included 25 tonnes of nitric acid, 348 tonnes of oil and up to 75 billion small plastic pellets. “The crisis could plague Sri Lanka for years,’ UNEP has said.

    The Sri Lankan government had then granted Sri Lankan Rs. 5,000 as a compensation to fisher families to tide over the crisis. That was at the height of the pandemic. Fernando feels that the offering was a pittance and an insult to the sector which is a vital cog of the country’s economy.

    Foreign fishing companies

    Fisher society representatives say that they have never been consulted on government plans to make new harbours. On the other hand, they allege, larger fishing companies from outside the country have had a say in the planning process for the new harbours that will need draft up to 40 feet, which they say, is an evidence of the government accommodating larger fishing vessels.

    They fear that this will pave the way for foreign entities to grab land along the coastal belt and establish their businesses in Sri Lanka.

    Fernando feels that such plans will turn the fishermen into cheap labourers of the owners of larger fishing vessels belonging to foreign companies to in the businesses.
    The fisher community has been calling on lawmakers to formulate a national policy for the fisheries sector which has been a major need to develop the sector.

    “We have been clamouring for a national policy to streamline and upgrade the sector which has enormous potential to promote and expand nautical tourism which is a dynamic and lucrative industry globally,” Fernando says.

    “The need to use new technology for precision and risk mitigation has been a long-felt need for the fisheries sector,” Fernando opines. “Law makers talk high about the country being surrounded by the seas and marine resources but have done pretty little to support the sector especially during tough times.”


    Image: Hippopx

    Sourced from and licensed under Creative Commons Zero – CC0 

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