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'Familiar disruption, uncertain future'

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"As sale and exports of fish crash, another huge crisis is staring at Sri Lanka's fisherfolk," writes Meera Srinivasan for The Hindu

"This is not the first time that their livelihoods are being disrupted or destroyed. From the nearly three decade-long civil war until 2009, to the invasive Indian trawlers that reigned their seas soon after, to conflicts with locals operating powerful mechanised boats, to migrant fisherfolk competing for their catch- Sri Lanka's northern fisherfolk have seen it all." 

"After struggling through the post-war decade, to cope with the aftermath of the devastating war, and against the Indian trawlers' destructive fishing in Sri Lanka's waters- which prompted Sri Lanka to introduce tougher laws- things were just beginning to look up. And then the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit them."

"Despite the stringent curfew, the Sri Lankan government allowed fisherfolk to continue fishing. 'We were very relieved they never stopped us from going to sea,' said Annalingam Annarasa, a fisher leader in Kayts island, off Jaffna peninsula. 'But even that didn't eventually help us,' he said. COVID-19 not only pulled the shutters down on all major markets they relied on to sell thier fish but also severely affected exports and domestic pricing."

"The losses are severe. On an average a fisherman who earlier sold 15kg of fish for LKR 1,000 per kg, would make a profit of about LKR 8,000 a day. But now, the same fish is being sold for some LKR 5,000, resulting in losses day after day. Further, middlemen buying fish to be sold in other parts of the country made more money than the fishermen, according to small-scale fishers in Jaffna."

"The impact of COVID-19 might have been less severe, had the fisheries sector been given some attention in the post-war years, according to Mr. Annarasa. 'All governments make promises, but nothing gets done. If different governments had invested in the fisheries sector, helping us modernise fishing, we could have increased production over the years and secured livelihoods."

"Not all fisherfolk qualify for government assistance or loans, he added. 'If you ask me, I will say fisherfolk are like daily wage labourers now. We earn something to eat and survive that day. That is all. We can't think much about the future.'"

Read the full article here