Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Finding workable solutions to India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Palk Bay

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Sri Lanka fisheries issue


After a gap of 15 months, the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries held its much-awaited deliberations (in virtual format) on March 25.

Background of the issue

  • As sections of fishermen from the Palk Bay bordering districts of Tamil Nadu continue to transgress the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), cases of many of them getting arrested and their boats being impounded by the Sri Lankan authorities continue.
  • Apart from poaching in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, the use of mechanised bottom trawlers is another issue that has become a bone of contention between the fishermen of the two countries; the dispute is not just between the two states.
  • Use of mechanised bottom trawlers: This method of fishing, which was once promoted by the authorities in India, is now seen as being extremely adverse to the marine ecology, and has been acknowledged so by India.
  • The actions of the Tamil Nadu fishermen adversely affect their counterparts in the Northern Province.
  • Reason for transgression: The fishermen of Tamil Nadu experience a genuine problem — the lack of fishing areas consequent to the demarcation of the IMBL in June 1974.
  • If they confine themselves to Indian waters, they find the area available for fishing full of rocks and coral reefs besides being shallow.
  • Under the Tamil Nadu Marine Fishing Regulation Act 1983, mechanised fishing boats can fish only beyond 3 NM from the coast.
  • This explains the trend of the fishermen having to cross the IMBL frequently.

Way forward

  • Transition to deep-sea fishing: While Indian fishermen can present a road map for their transition to deep sea fishing or alternative methods of fishing, the Sri Lankan side has to take a pragmatic view that the transition cannot happen abruptly.
  • In the meantime, India will have to modify its scheme on deep-sea fishing to accommodate the concerns of its fishermen, especially those from Ramanathapuram district, so that they take to deep-sea fishing without any reservation.
  • Alternative livelihood measures: There is a compelling need for the Central and State governments to implement in Tamil Nadu the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in a proactive manner.
  • The scheme, which was flagged off two years ago, covers alternative livelihood measures too including seaweed cultivation, open sea cage cultivation, and sea/ocean ranching.
  • During Mr. Jaishankar’s visit, India had signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lanka for the development of fisheries harbours.
  • This can be modified to include a scheme for deep-sea fishing to the fishermen of the North.
  • Joint research on fisheries: . It is a welcome development that the JWG has agreed to have joint research on fisheries, which should be commissioned at the earliest.
  • Institutional mechanism: Simultaneously, the two countries should explore the possibility of establishing a permanent multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism to regulate fishing activity in the region.
  • Using common thread of culture, language and religion: The people of the two countries in general and fisherfolk in particular have common threads of language, culture and religion, all of which can be used purposefully to resolve any dispute.


What everyone needs to remember is that the fisheries dispute is not an insurmountable problem. A number of options are available to make the Palk Bay not only free of troubles but also a model for collaborative endeavours in fishing.

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