Feature Article

Jaffna’s crippled fisheries industry strapped for cash

[TamilNet, Thursday, 26 June 2003, 02:18 GMT]
Two decades ago the Jaffna district was Sri Lanka’s main fisheries producer, accounting for 37 percent of the island’s total catch. Today Jaffna’s ‘fisheries belt’ lies inside the Sri Lanka army’s largest high security zone in the northeast, its once prosperous coastal villages virtually razed to the ground.

“Colombo hasn’t given us any money so far to help the peninsula’s crippled fisheries industry," Mr. A. Joseph, the chief official of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) in Jaffna, said Thursday. Officials say it is not possible to fully revive and develop the fishing sector in most parts of Jaffna because of persisting Sri Lankan armed forces' restrictions and no go zones.

Draconian restrictions and bans imposed by Sri Lankan armed forces on fishing have driven to destitution thousands of fishing families in the north over the years.

The Northeast Provincial Council (NEPC) can do nothing to help because fisheries is a subject that is exclusively in the hands of Colombo. Provincial fisheries offices were scrapped and only the inland fisheries was left under the purview of the NEPC. But inland fisheries are totally neglected in the northeast as the NEPC gets no funds at all from Colombo for this sector of the region’s tattered economy, officials say.

“Fifteen months of peace between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers has done nought to resuscitate the peninsula’s fisheries industry," the President of the Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Societies in Jaffna, Mr. Sinnaiah Thavaratnam, told Tamilnet.

“And Colombo, as with the other sectors of the district’s economy, hasn’t provided any aid so far to even provide basic succour to breathe some life back into Jaffna’s fisheries industry," Mr. Thavaratnam said.

“Almost 65 percent of Jaffna’s monthly catch came from its northern and northwestern coast – from Thondamanar to Ponnalai – until 1983. The production in this area dwindled to nought after the Sri Lanka army and navy captured this region. Today a large part of this coast, from Thondmanar to Senthankulam is a no go zone. And restrictions such as the special security pass system are still in place, preventing the normal resettlement and village revival processes," he added.

The Sri Lanka army has banned fishing in the Jaffna lagoon along the Kilali-Kachahai coast. Sri Lankan armed forces restrictions limit fishing in other parts of the lagoon.

Officials say that in this circumstance the southern coast of Jaffna is the only area in the peninsula where fisher folk can engage in their calling freely. The region is controlled by the Liberation Tigers.

A large part of this coast, from Thalaiyadi to Vettilaikerni, was part of the sprawling Sri Lanka army base complex from 1991 to 2000.

Hundreds of fishermen’s families have been resettling in their villages here since the Liberation Tigers overran SLA garrisons in April – May 2000 and de-mined the area to make it safe for the returnees.

“We estimate that we need at least 158.307 million rupees (1.63 million USD) just to get this region’s fisheries sector back on its feet – to replace boats, engines and fishing gear lost in the war. Vadamaradchi East currently produces 83950 a day with limited resources. It can almost be doubled if the money can be found to do something about the immense damage and destruction caused by the war," said an official of the main fishermen’s co-operative society of the region in Maruthankerni.

Fishermen on this coast had two lighthouses at Vettilaikerni and Thalaiyadi to guide them at sea. Both were destroyed in the war. “The two lighthouses have to be rebuilt and at least 11 fishermen’s rests have to be put up on the beaches," the official said.

There are 225 widows of fishermen who were killed at sea by Sri Lanka Navy and in Air Force bombing raids. Colombo often claimed that these were Sea Tigers. Eighty-five fishermen who were permanently maimed in SLN attacks and SLAF bombings in the seas off Vadamaradchi East live here as dependents on their families and relatives.

“We need at least four fuel stations and three ice factories to resuscitate the fisheries industry here. But Sri Lankan government officials keep telling us there is no money even to address very basic problems faced by the industry here. We are fast losing hope that the peace would give us anything," a spokesman for the Mamunai fisheries co-op society told TamilNet.

Statistics on Jaffna fishing industry

Item

Maamunai

Chempianpattu

Thalaiyadi

Maruthankerni

Vathirayan

No of families

108

102

98

166

210

Family members

540

510

490

825

1050

Fishing families

99

75

78

150

200

Fisher family members

450

375

390

750

1000

Number engaged in indirect fisheries activities

25

10

15

25

22

Daily fish catch (kg)

5400

5100

4950

8250

10500

Boats fishing gear destroyed in war (Rs)

10,800,000

10,200,000

9,800,000

16,507,000

21,000,000

Gear required to rejuvanate

(a) 27' fishing boats

5

5

7

6

8

(b) 18' fishing boats

13

11

12

50

65

(c) Catamarans

35

28

24

75

83

(d) Nets

2250

1875

1940

3750

5600

(e) Engines and OBMs

13

11

10

50

65

Expected new Catch after rejuvanation (kg)

10800

11000

8800

16500

21000




Statistics on Jaffna fishing industry

Item

Uduthurai

Aliyawalai

Vettilaikerni

Kattaikkaadu

Chundikulam

No of families

320

180

175

160

65

Family members

1600

900

875

800

325

Fishing families

300

170

160

150

60

Fisher family members

1450

850

800

750

300

Number engaged in indirect fisheries activities

55

32

24

42

20

Daily fish catch (kg)

16000

9000

8750

8000

8000

Boats fishing gear destroyed in war (Rs)

32,000,000

18,000,000

17,500,000

16,000,000

6,500,000

Gear required to rejuvanate

(a) 27' fishing boats

12

9

7

6

3

(b) 18' fishing boats

85

78

63

55

10

(c) Catamarans

100

95

52

40

7

(d) Nets

7500

4250

4000

3750

1500

(e) Engines and OBMs

85

78

63

55

10

Expected new Catch after rejuvanation (kg)

32000

18000

17500

15500

15500

 

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