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Sri Lankan fishermen hard hit by peace

[AFP, Thursday, 2 September 2010 14:31 No Comment]

Fishermen in the Sri Lankan port of Trincomalee hoped the end of the island’s civil war would bring prosperity, but dynamite and corruption now threaten their livelihoods.

Trincomalee, on the northeast coast, has one of the world’s finest natural harbours and was fiercely fought over during the war until government troops finally defeated the rebel Tamil Tigers in May last year.

"The problem we have now is that although we have the freedom to go out and work, the fish are being illegally destroyed to the point where we can?t earn a living," said captain Ananda Peiris after a dawn expedition that brought in just 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) of tuna.

Peiris hoped his small boat would haul in good profits when restrictions on fishing were lifted after peace broke out.

But he says the end of the war has resulted in a free-for-all that leaves him with tiny catches as big operators bribe authorities and use dynamite to kill large numbers of fish, also damaging coral reefs.

"A lot of fishermen are going out but because others are doing dynamite and purse seine (circular net) fishing, we are not able to earn money," he said.

"We’ve told the government but they’re not doing anything. Our natural resources are being destroyed and I don’t know what to do."

The Fisheries Ministry says the annual catch last year rocketed to 28,000 tonnes from just 8,000 during the war — and it admits that the increase is due in part to illegal dynamite fishing and big business corruption.

"The government has banned this type of fishing. But we depend on the navy to patrol the waters and prevent these horrible methods," Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne told AFP.

"There are certain Navy officials in certain places who are also involved with the business people in the area. Therefore, they are not taking quick action," Senaratne said.

For the 8,000-strong community of small-scale fishermen in Trincomalee, there has been no sign of a "peace dividend" since decades of bloody ethnic warfare in Sri Lanka came to an end.

"During the war where we could only fish in daytime, I earned about 10,000 rupees (90 dollars) a day. Now I barely earn 2,000 rupees," said fisherman Mohammed Fazlan, 39.

A third-generation fisherman, Fazlan blames authorities for not tackling the illegal and unregulated fishing rackets that have taken over control of waters that were until recently infested by Tamil Tiger mines.

During the war, the Tigers carried out several daring attacks on Trincomalee harbour, which was a critical transport link from where government troops, food and ammunition were ferried to the battlefields further north.

"The illegal fishing is done under political patronage," alleged Naghappan Parasuraman, 61, president of Trincomalee Fishermen’s Society. "During the war the Tigers banned it, and people were scared of them. Now no Tigers. People want quick money.

[Full Coverage]

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