PK Balachandran, courtesy of the Indian Express, 2 May 2015 where the title reads “Lankan Ban On Bottom Trawling Key To Ending Fishing Row: Expert”
The only way in which Sri Lanka can stop the destructive bottom trawling being done by Indian poachers in Lankan waters is to impose a legal ban on bottom trawling, says Lankan researcher Vidya Nathaniel of the Colombo-based Verite Research. Lanka has not banned bottom trawling, the lawyer-turned academic points out in her Working Paper entitled: “Why a ban on bottom trawling in Sri Lanka is necessary to comply with its international obligations.” Nathaniel is of the view that it will be futile to try stopping Indians from bottom trawling in Lankan waters without Lanka first imposing a ban on this kind of fishing, irrespective of the nationality of the bottom trawler.
She points out that Lankans are allowed to do bottom trawling in their waters by getting a license from the Department of Fisheries under the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act 2 of 1996. The Act prohibits some methods of fishing, but bottom trawling is not one of them.
The only restriction on Lankan bottom trawlers is that the fish they catch cannot be exported. But the export ban does not apply to non-Lankan vessels. At present, eight Chinese vessels are licensed to indulge in bottom trawling and export their catch. The 2000 Indian trawlers which intrude daily, are of course, not licensed.
Nathaniel recognises the fact that Indian fishermen claim that they have a “traditional right” to fish on the Lankan side of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) as per the 1974 India-Lanka agreement. Lanka rejects this claim. But the real issue is not the Indians’ claim, but the destructive bottom trawling they indulge in, she says. And the only way to end the latter is for Lanka to impose a legal ban on it and claim its rights under Art. 193 of the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which says that a signatory has the right to exploit its natural maritime resources and also take steps to protect these resources.
A ban will also prevent Lankan trawler owners from stepping into the shoes of the withdrawing Indians, Nathaniel adds. Apparently, the Lankan trawler lobby is an influential one. As yet there is no move in governmental circles to ban bottom trawling.