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Illegal fishing modes, a blow to industry

With the relaxation of restrictions on fishing within the Sri Lankan territorial waters, the fishing industry is thriving and would lead towards prosperity in the country if this resource is managed properly.

The rapid increase in the use of illegal modes of fishing, however has posed a threat to the industry as it immensely affects the country's fishing resources.

According to the National Aquatic Resource Agency of the Fisheries Ministry the continuation of illegal fishing practices will impact on long-term sustainability of the fishing industry in Sri Lanka.

Therefore, as a country which has been blessed with such a vast sea area filled with marine resource enough to feed the country for centuries, has a responsibility of protecting its marine resources for future generations without ruining it for short-term profit gains.

The Fisheries Department which is the regulatory body to oversee the fisheries industry in Sri Lanka observed that illegal modes of fishing which adversely affects the industry has increased during this year.

According to Kumari Withana, Legal Officer of the Fisheries Department this year alone the Department has filed 211 cases against fishermen who had used illegal modes for fishing.

According to her, fishing methods that are not provided licence to operate are known as illegal modes of fishing.

The Fisheries Act of 1996, have prohibited five fishing methods in Sri Lankan waters.

Use of push net for fishing operations, harpooning for marine mammals such as whales, dugong and dolphins, moxi nets fishing operation, using gillnet or trammel net on coral reefs or rocks and the use of monofilament for fishing are prohibited in the country.

Push nets operate in lagoon waters damaging inhabitants, such as juveniles of bottom living fin fishes and shell fishes.

The moxy net is normally used for ornamental fishing and that cause damage to the seabed habitat and coral reefs once they used for fishing in lagoons and coral reefs.

Although the use of gillnet and trammel net is approved for deep sea fishing, use of these nets on shallow waters, coral reefs and rocks have been prohibited as they destroy the fishing habitats.

According to fisheries experts using such nets in coastal and lagoon fishery in Sri Lanka damage bottom juveniles and habitats such as coral reefs.Using those nets in the bottom layers of the sea after increasing the weight used in the nets is also damaging as they disturb the fishing habitats in deep layers of the sea.

Any type of gillnets that has mesh-size less than three inches are also prohibited in fresh water fishery since it is the average size limits of juveniles in the fresh water fishes.

The use of Nylon nets is a ghost fishing method that catch all sizes of fish and has been banned under the Fisheries Act since 2006.

Although the use of nylon nets is a efficient fishing method, due to the sharpness of the thread the there is more harm caused to fish easily and it is prone to decompose easily due to those damages.

"Fish get caught to this net very easily as it is invisible with the sun light", she added.

The Use of moxi net is prohibited because it nets juvenile fish which can breed more than 100,000 fish once they are grown well by laying eggs in fishing habitats, she said.

"We have imposed this law specially to protect the fishing breeding grounds", she said.

Not only the Fisheries Act defined prohibited fishing modes, it also very clearly states that 'No person shall use or attempt to use any poisonous explosives like dynamite or stupefying substance or other noxious or harmful material or substance in Sri Lankan waters for the purpose of poisoning, killing, stunning, disabling any fish or other aquatic resources.

The Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Department of the Fisheries Ministry as the regulatory and implementing agency of the Fisheries Act has empowered to the Fisheries Inspectors functioning under Fisheries Directors in 14 Districts to take action against illegal fishing methods.

"They are authorised to take legal action when the Fisheries Act is violated by anybody. In addition to Fisheries Inspectors the Police, Navy and Air Force are authorised to conduct these raids", she said.

In addition the section II of the Fisheries Act, 17 legal fishing methods have been defined. Except for these 17 legal fishing methods no other fishing methods can be used in the Sri Lankan waters.

"If someone is violating these laws the fisheries inspectors are authorised to file legal action against them in the Magistrate Court", she added.

According to Withana the real danger behind the use of these illegal fishing modes was very clearly exhibited when Fisheries Inspectors found one fishing net in Chilaw area with more than 100,000 pieces of coral reefs in it.

"It clearly showed the extent of the damage caused to the natural fishing habitats in the sea", she added.

She said the Fisheries Act of 1996 was came in to effect to manage and preserving the fisheries resources in the country as the number of people entering to fishing industry increased drastically.

"Those days we had enough resources. Therefore, we did not have the necessity to manage resources. With the increase in the number of people entering the fisheries industry we had to manage the fishing resources", she said.

Chapter IV of the Fisheries Act very clearly deals with the conservation of aquatic resource."The Section 27 of the Fisheries Act says that no explosive or poisonous device can be used or kept in the Sri Lankan waters. The Act has permitted the Magistrate Courts to impose Rs. 100,000 fine or three years to five years prison term for those who are using explosives for fishing purposes", she added.

Even if you keep fish killed using dynamite or using poisonous things they also can be subjected to legal actions under the Fisheries Act.

According to her, the use of dynamite is on the increase in the Eastern sea belt. That was a trend that prevailed in the Southern coast in 2008.

The Fisheries Department has filed more than 211 cases against illegal fishing modes in the first 10 months of the year alone. "The highest number of cases have been filed against fishermen in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts", she added.The Fisheries Department has detained 31 cases of using monofilament nets from the Batticaloa district and 24 cases of using dynamite for fishing. The use of monofilament or trammel net on coral reef or rock nets has seen an increase in Negombo, Puttalam and Kalmunai areas.

According, to a spokesman for NARA small-scale fisheries are dynamic, labour intensive and usually well integrated with local marketing arrangements.

"Therefore, small-scale fishers, their families and communities are dependent on fish for their food and livelihood and they are extremely vulnerable to illegal fishing", the spokesman added.

He said illegal fishing practices in small-scale fishing grounds and the ever increasing competition for resources have a negative impact both on the resources and on the small-scale fishers whose activities have great social and economic significance unlike industrial operators whose activities are purely and solely commercial.

"Continuation of illegal fishing practices will impact on long-term sustainability of the fishing industry in Sri Lanka", he said."This is a very alarming situation and the Fisheries Ministry along with the Sri Lanka Navy is taking stern action against those who are using illegal modes for fishing", a spokesman for the Fisheries Ministry said.The Navy has extended its fullest cooperation to the Fisheries Ministry in this regard carrying out large number of raids in all coastal areas in the country.

"The Navy along with the fisheries inspectors has enhanced checking on the fishing boats going out at sea from Fishing marshalling points to detain those illegal fishing nets and explosives", Navy Spokesman Captain Athula Senerath said.

 

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