Agri Business

Chinese fishing off Sri Lanka hits Indian fishworkers

K. P. M. Basheer Kochi | Updated on June 24, 2013 Published on June 24, 2013

Troubled waters: China is the largest tuna consumer in the world and is a leading market for high-end fish. The permission for Chinese vessels is likely to derail the economies of India and Lakshadweep

Trawlers pose a threat to India’s rich tuna resources

Fishworkers in Kerala and Lakshadweep are alarmed by the recent move of the Sri Lankan Government giving permission to a Chinese fishing company to use Dikkowita harbour – north of Colombo – to fish in the island’s international waters.

These vessels also have permission to fly the Sri Lankan flag while engaged in the fishing operations.

Fishworkers’ unions fear that the Chinese fishing vessels, equipped with modern satellite-based instruments to track fish shoals, will sweep the Indian Ocean clean.

This would impact the availability of catch for fishermen in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep as well as in the Maldives, says Charles George, President of the Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikyavedi (the united front of Kerala fishworkers). George told Business Line that Chinese vessels had been fishing illegally off the Lankan coast for years, but the Rajapaksha Government had given legal cover to this now.

The Chinese vessels would be major threat to India’s rich tuna resources, estimated at 2.5 lakh tonnes, he said, adding that Lakshadweep’s economy relied heavily on tuna. The Chinese trawlers would derail it.

‘FISHY’ APPETITE

China is the largest tuna consumer in the world and is a leading market for high-end fish.

The Financial Times, quoting the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), recently reported that China’s increasing consumption of fish, from tuna to oysters, had contributed to driving up global fish prices.

The Sri Lankan media recently reported that the authorities had allowed a Chinese company to berth its fishing vessels at Dikkowita and use all the facilities there.

The company is slated to start its operations next week with four 150-foot vessels equipped with sophisticated instruments.

Sixteen more vessels would join the fleet soon. An agreement between Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment and the Chinese company permits the company to keep 90 per cent of the catch; the remaining 10 per cent would be sold to the Fisheries Corporation at a low price. 

Dikkowita harbour is said to be the largest fishing harbour in South Asia. Built with Dutch financial aid, it opened in January this year. It can handle 150 tonnes of fish landing, and offers processing and other facilities.

Apart from allowing the Chinese company to use Dikkowita, the Sri Lankan Government has also allowed Chinese vessels to fly the Sri Lankan flag while fishing in waters “beyond the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the country”.

The Sri Lankan media, quoting Deputy Fisheries Minister Sarath Kumaara Gunaratne, have reported that the Chinese had been permitted to fish “only within the international sea boundaries”.

They had been asked not to fish within the “Sri Lankan sea boundary”.

However, local fishing unions claim that the Chinese are already fishing in the EEZ area.

basheer.kpm@thehindu.co.in

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Published on June 24, 2013
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