Lanka takes a stand on tuna fishing in Indian Ocean

By Malaka Rodrigo

After years of playing a passive role, Sri Lanka is taking a stand on tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean, and pressing for its rights to a fair share of Indian Ocean tuna. According to Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Sri Lanka will be actively pursuing its rights to Indian Ocean fishing. “We were somewhat inactive over the last few years, not voicing our needs at international forums on fishing. But now Sri Lanka will be vigilant and fight for a fair distribution of Indian Ocean tuna,” the Minister said.

Dr.Hiran Jayewardene - head of IOTC SL delegation with Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne

The 15th sessions of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) are in progress at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. Sessions began on March 14 and continue till Tuesday (22nd). The IOTC participants are Indian Ocean countries and distant water fishing nations, including European Union nations, and Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. All these countries fish in the Indian Ocean, and are allocated fishing quotas by the IOTC.

The IOTC is an inter-government body, set up under the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), that confers on matters relating to Indian Ocean Tuna and like fish species.

High on the agenda are discussions on unsustainable fishing practices that are seriously depleting tuna species, such as the Yellow-fin Tuna (kelawalla) and the Skipjack Tuna (balaya). The risk of extinction is high, experts say, if current fishing practices were allowed to continue unchecked.
The developed distant water fishing countries use purse-seine nets to catch entire shoals of tuna, including young fish. This unsustainable practice leaves no room for young fish to survive and spawn future generations of tuna.

The developed fishing nations also use Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) for locating and snaring extra large shoals of fish, a practice that has already threatened the survival of the Atlantic Ocean’s Blue-fin Tuna. Fisheries experts are worried the same could happen in the Indian Ocean.

Tuna accounts for around 143,000 tons, or more than 42 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total fish catch, and 49 per cent of the country’s marine fish catch.

Sri Lanka has been involved in tuna management since the early ’80s. The country initiated the forming of a coalition of coastal nations to protect their fishing rights. The Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation (IOMAC), representing 17 coastal countries, met in Sri Lanka in February. Key IOMAC concerns are on the agenda at the ongoing sessions.

Related Story in PLUS Section : Our Kelawalla and Balaya are in deep trouble

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