Home Contact Us  

South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5076, 11 July 2016

Dateline Colombo

The Island and the Mainland: Impact of Fisheries on Indo-Lanka Relations
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Former Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka

At the southern tip of India, in a narrow stretch of water where the seascape begins, is one of the region’s geopolitical hot spots.

The waters between India and Sri Lanka are rich in history and mythology. According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, there is only one point of connection between the two nations: the man-made bridge that Rama and Hanuman used to reach Sri Lanka and rescue Rama’s wife Sita from the demon King Ravana of Lanka. This bridge was renamed the Adams Bridge by British cartographers at the beginning of the 20th century. The geographical stretch of water here, called the Palk Strait, has served as a rich fishing ground for fishermen.

The thirty-year war that devastated Sri Lanka has had many implications for the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Often, Indian central government policy highly influences popular Tamil Nadu party politics and vice versa, which has threatened Indo-Sri Lanka relations on many occasions. Post war Indo-Sri Lanka relations have been challenging and have sometimes threatened the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. For example, the recent announcements by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha on claiming Katchatheevu island and establishing a separate state, “Eelam”.

Despite this, the most pressing issue remains state sovereignty and the fishermen dispute. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa plays a pivotal role as a sympathiser of Tamil Nadu fishermen who encroach Sri Lankan fishing grounds, and also as a protector of the fisheries’ business owners who own and operate mechanised industrial bottom trawlers. Indian fisherman ripped out the rich seabed using the bottom trawlers; a practice now banned globally. There is also evidence of a few Sri Lankan fishing boats being converted with this method; the justification being, if India can do it in Sri Lankan waters, why can’t Sri Lankans themselves? The authorities should take strict measures to confiscate these trawlers as they destroy the rich biodiversity of the ocean.

The fishermen claim they are ignorant about the existence of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). There are reports that more than 3,000 Indian fishing boats engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in Sri Lankan waters. Both governments had met many times to resolve this dispute with arrests of fishermen from both sides. During Sri Lankan President Sirisena recent visit to India, Prime Minister Modi stated the need to find a permanent solution to the issue of fishermen straying into each other waters. As a solution, the issuing of licenses to a few Indian fishing trawlers with limited catch - to minimise mass scale fisheries and resource depletion – is on the anvil. A technical proposal will be drawn up and submitted to the Indian Government, according to Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defence. This method is not new - in 1976, the maritime boundary agreement between the two countries was to issue up to six permits to Sri Lankan vessels with 2,000 tons per year for three years at Wadge Bank, south of Kanyakumari. A recent newspaper reports the Sri Lankan Fisheries’ Minister as having said, “At present 2,000 to 3,000 Indian trawlers fish in our waters. The aim is to reduce it to 250 and to issue license to them.”

If these licenses are issued to the Indian mechanised bottom trawlers, there will be objections from Sri Lankan fishermen. If it is for ordinary fishing vessels, templates such as New Zealand’s Quota Management System (QMS) could be looked at. In the past, when fisheries’ resources in New Zealand were depleting, the authorities set up a QMS to allocate fishing vessels to demarcated zones inside the Exculsive Economic Zone (EEZ), with an annual quota that could be traded at an electronic trading market. If a fisherman had stocks left, he could trade with another. Sri Lankan fisheries officials studied this system in 2008.

The Sri Lankan fisheries association and its Indian counterpart could study a system like the QMS to resolve the issue, as the former has reservations about granting licenses to Indian trawlers to fish in Sri Lankan waters. A customised QMS and the creation of a joint fisheries association with a registered database of fishing vessels is an option. As it stands, the existing GPS device used by Indian fishermen, which indicates proximity to the IMBL with a beep, is of no use if the transponders are switched off to engage in illegal fishing. Any effort to resolve the issue will fail if certain standards are not followed and rule-breakers are not punished. In Malaysia, for example, if the transponders are switched off, the authorities automatically fine the fishermen.

There is still no legislation in Sri Lanka banning bottom trawling, and this should be taken up immediately to preserve the rich ocean ecology. The department of fisheries has currently stopped issuing licenses but this is not sufficient - introducing the right law is essential. In fact, this situation involving bottom trawlers has worsened this year in comparison to the last, with a serious increase in the number of boats. More than 50,000 Sri Lankan fishing families in the north have been affected and huge revenue losses are incurred everyday due to illegal fishing by Indian trawlers.

The Governments of India and Sri Lanka should come together to find a comprehensive and sustainable solution that takes into account both the challenging geographical space and the rich biodiversity in this area. If left alone in the present state, the issue could create a serious strain on the India-Sri Lanka relationship.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Changing Political Horizons in Sri Lanka?

The Geopolitics of Floating Bases and the New World Order

Monuments Over Mortality?

Sri Lanka: Leveraging the Politics of Geography

The Forgotten Professions: The Plight of a Nation

Crisis and Foresight Analysis

Steering Co-operation Across Oceans

Sri Lanka: National Interests in a Globalised World

Re-building Sri Lanka: An Island at a Crossroads

Forecast 2017: Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Foreign Policy: Diaspora and Lobbying

Securing Sri Lanka's National Interests

Understanding our “Blindspot” to Make Peacebuilding Comprehensive

Oceans of (Dis)trust

Death and Democracy

New Delhi-Tamil Nadu Relations and India’s Sri Lanka Policy

Remembering Tagore in Turbulent Times

Politics of Promise: Between Sirisena and Rajapaksa

Conflict to Co-existence: Debating Heritage and Homogenisation

Forecast 2016: A Roadmap for Sri Lanka

China Prepares for a Modern War

Riot and Responsibility: Governance in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka and the World: Terrorism and Effective Reconciliation

Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome

The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.