Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: FAO warns of imminent over-provision of small craft

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Colombo, June 21 - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (MFAR) warn that there is a risk of over provision of small fishing boats in seven districts. This could contribute to over-fishing and result in long-term damage to the coastal fisheries resource.
FAO urges all actors in fisheries sector to participate in the joint FAO - MFAR coordination mechanism in an effort to resolve this issue.

"We can still avoid this threat to the fisheries if we can get all the actors involved in the fisheries sector to take part in the joint FAO-MFAR coordination mechanism" said Mona Chaya, FAO Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Sri Lanka.

Over 31 000 people were killed and almost a million left homeless after tidal waves hit Sri Lanka's shoreline on 26 December 2004. According to government estimates, 54 percent of the total fishing fleet was either made un-seaworthy or was totally destroyed by the tsunami.

Recent data collected through the joint FAO-MFAR coordination mechanism suggests an over-replacement of boats in Kalutare, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara, Batticaloa and Jafna districts. These districts will likely see an increase in Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) and traditional fishing boats compared to fleet sizes before the tsunami.

Sri Lanka benefited from a generous outpouring of international support for its tsunami relief effort. An unprecedented large number of actors including local and international NGOs, donor agencies, private sector entrepreneurs, groups as well as individual well wishers both local and foreign contribute to post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction in the fisheries sector.

FAO has been assisting MFAR in monitoring the activities of NGOs and other organizations in the fisheries sector. A regular dialogue with NGOs is maintained through coordinating meetings.

Some NGOs have responded positively to Ministry's concerns and have drastically cut down on the provision of new boats. These include Sewa Lanka and the British Red Cross. CORDAID is planning to introduce an awareness raising campaign to inform fishers regarding sustainable resource and ecosystem management as a result of consultations with MFAR.

"The fleet size was already unsustainably large before the tsunami" said Mr. G. Piyasena, Director General of the Dept. of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. If the pledges by various NGOs and donors are completely fulfilled, there could be an excess of over 2 000 traditional crafts and 2 200 FRP boats in the coastal fishery compared to the pre-tsunami situation.

Research had already indicated signs of over-fishing in many coastal fisheries before the tsunami. Fishers had started resorting to smaller and smaller mesh nets to target dwindling stocks. A study supported by FAO in 2003 shows that in areas excluding north and east, the increase in coastal fish production has been marginal, from 130 000 tonnes in 1989 to 142 000 tonnes in 2002, although the number of fishers in the coastal fishery almost doubled over that period.

Although surrounded by the sea, fishery resources around Sri Lanka are naturally limited by a narrow continental shelf, a permanent thermocline that prevents mixing of nutrient rich deeper water with warm surface water and lack of any significant upwellings.

In view of the concerns related to over supply of boats, it is hoped that the Ministry will be able to solicit the support and cooperation of the NGOs and other donors to rethink their strategies and areas of assistance to the fisheries sector, keeping in mind the fragile and limited resource base.

FAO is the UN's lead agency for the rehabilitation of the fisheries sector. Whilst FAO and the Sri Lankan government's immediate priority following the tsunami disaster has been to get the fishers fishing again as soon as possible, the longer-term strategy is to improve the sector as a whole with a view to raising the incomes of coastal communities.

For more information contact Mona Chaya, FAO Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Sri Lanka tel: 0773187360 e-mail: mona.chaya@fao.org