The 5th Meeting of India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on fisheries took place on 25 March in a virtual format. The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Rathnayake, Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries of Sri Lanka and the Indian delegation by Shri Jatindra Nath Swain, Secretary (Fisheries), Government of India. Both sides reviewed the developments since the last meeting of the Joint Working Group held in December 2020.
The Indian side asked the relevant Sri Lankan authorities to exercise caution so as to prevent any casualties in the course of crackdowns on fishing boats; and suggested using paramilitary to apprehend fishermen. Suggesting that relevant UNCLOS clauses are fishermen-friendly in spirit and letter, the Indian Government requested to tackle the ‘fisheries issue’ through a humanitarian approach.
Both sides reiterated the highest priority for the well-being, safety and security of fishermen. They agreed that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstances, and reiterated the importance of extending humane treatment to all fishermen.
They assessed the continuing bilateral cooperation to resolve issues in the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar. The two sides shared appreciation for the concerted efforts undertaken to maintain safe and sustainable fishing, including the joint Naval patrols and hotline between the coast guards.
The Sri Lankan side raised its concerns on the methods used by fishing vessels and stressed that it is imperative to work together in drawing up effective measures to mitigate the loss of livelihood. The Indian side assured its assistance in this regard.
The Indian delegation also elaborated on the steps undertaken by the Government to safeguard the marine environment and explained its measures to improve the fisheries order, including stationing coast guard vessels at key sea routes requested by the Sri Lankan side, creating awareness on environmentally damaging fishing operations, and providing education, financial support and guidance to Indian fishermen to migrate longline fishing. The Indian side had earlier dispensed dry rations to Sri Lankan fisher families reflecting continuing interest in the well-being of the fishermen.
The two sides noted with appreciation that they have maintained the momentum of cooperation by holding the 5th meeting on cooperation on fisheries issues amid the Covid-19 situation and agreed to continue utilising the meeting, as a significant communication channel to improve fishing activities and pursue joint research fisheries cooperation.