Fishing ban ends, but fishermen’s fear of attack continues

29MAY_RNJWSHI-__MA_2422044fFishermen getting ready to resume fishing ahead of the end of the 45-day ban period in Rameswaram on Friday

“We have to fish in our traditional waters”

With uncertainty looming large after the Sri Lankan government warned that Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu would not be allowed to fish in their waters “even for a single day”, the fishing community here is keeping its fingers crossed.

After the end of the 45-day ban period, about 7,000 fishermen are set to venture into the sea in 1,400 trawlers from the fishing jetties at Rameswaram, Mandapam and Pamban on Saturday, with a sense of fear of arrest by the Lankan navy if they cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and get into the Lankan waters.

“We have no option. We cannot make our ends meet if we don’t fish across the IMBL. We are venturing into the sea keeping the burden on God,” Irudhayam, a Rameswaram fisherman, told The Hindu on Friday.

Earlier, the fishermen had hopes that the Centre would come to their rescue in the event of their arrest by the Lankan navy, but this time, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had categorically told the fishermen not to cross the IMBL.

After pleading that they be allowed to fish for 83 days a year in the Palk Bay and given three years’ time to phase out the bottom trawlers in the third round of talks held in Chennai on March 24, the fishermen were expecting a positive signal from their Lankan counterparts only to be rudely shocked.

Lankan Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera two days ago had said, “We will not allow them to do fishing even for a single day in our waters.”

“The Minister’s statement amounted to rubbing salt to the injury,” fishermen leader P. Sesu Raja said.

“There has been no change in our stand that we should be allowed to fish in our traditional waters in the Palk Bay till we are given alternative livelihood or time to phase out bottom trawling,” he said.

“Considering the amount of foreign exchange earned by the fishermen, the Centre should prevail upon the Lankan government and find a negotiated settlement to the vexatious issue,” N.J. Bose, a fishermen leader said.

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